Civil War Photos

With the the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War (1861-1865), people are infatuated with finding as much information as possible. They are interested not only in the events, battles, people, Lincoln assassination, etc. during those years, but mostly learning if they had any relatives involved with the war directly related or part of the extended family.

To know if you had any, look at the time period. If a family branch on either of your parents’ side had relatives living anywhere in the United States from 1861 to 1865 they would have been affected by the war somehow. If all your ancestors did not arrive to America until after 1865, they could not have been in the war.

Photography had come into its own with the war in the 1860s. Having a photo taken and copies made was so much easier and less expensive compared to just 5 years earlier. Families realized their soldier son or father may not come back, so many images were taken. Photos of the soldiers and individual photos of mothers, parents, wives, children of the soldiers were done.

It is estimated that about 75% of the 2.5 million Union Federal soldiers purchased at least one tintype or ambrotype and a set of a dozen cartes de visite at the beginning of their enlistment, That would make nearly 1.9 million men having some 24 million photographs who shared with friends and family. Of those numbers, soldiers who survived the war, many times had additional photos taken when they returned home. The same holds true for the Confederate soldiers, they also had photos taken of themselves, especially in their uniform.

With the passage of time, people moving, weather disasters, fires, etc. millions of those photos are gone forever. An estimate of 5 to 8 million images still exist in private family collections, museums, state archives, veteran groups, federal government archives, etc. That is a large number considering it has been 150 years.

Some of the places you can search and look at Civil War images include the United States National Archives and the Library of Congress. There are types of military units, individual soldiers, battle grounds, etc. from which to examine. Not all are identified as to the soldier or a family members, but many have been labeled.

One of the most famous photographers during the Civil War was Mathew Brady. The Library of Congress has a massive collection of Brady images. There are hundreds to view.

Besides these sources, use Google or a search engine putting in a certain state with the phrase Civil War photos and there can be even more images available in state archives. Just putting in ‘Civil War photos’ will produce a large array of those 5 to 8 million surviving images.

Make sure to check your own family albums, attics, family Bibles and extended family members, there may be even more photos unknown about.

Photo: Three Confederate Prisoners from Battle of Gettysburg July 1863. (source the Library of Congress).

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