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Browse our Database of - Civil War Portraits - with over 1000 images!

Due to the recent invention of photography, the American Civil War (1861-65) was the first to be documented with this technique. After the battle of Antietam in September 1862, the true horrors of war were brought to the unaware and naive public eye by Matthew Brady's gallery exhibition in New York City showing pictures of the mutilated dead.

Many soldiers had portrait pictures taken of themselves by local and travelling photo- graphers, often just before they were sent into battle. Soldiers also carried pictures of loved ones and family members into war as a way of remembering a normal life back home - 620 000 never returned.

George Weeks, a drummer boy from Maine, said in a letter dated October 12th 1865: 'I am coming home at last... I have served three years in the greatest army that was ever known.'

'It is the ideals an army embraces that make it great, not its military prowess. They were champions of democracy, an idea much of the world expected to fail. That idea, that great experiment in self-government, is what they died for.' (B. Liljenquist)

The ambrotype and tintype photographs often show hats, firearms, canteens, musical instruments, painted backdrops, and other details that enhance their research value. Belt buckles and hats can provide information about soldiers' regiments. Note that the letters on the hats and belt buckles are usually reversed. Since ambrotypes and tintypes are direct positives, they often produce laterally reversed images.

Among the rarest images are African Americans in uniform, sailors and portraits of soldiers with their wives and children. Images of Confederate soldiers are also much less common than their Union counterparts. A few personal stories and names sometimes survive in notes pinned to the photo cases, but most of the people and photographers are unidentified.

The largest collection of these photographs is kept in the Library of Congress, after a donation in 2010 by the Liljenquist family. The majority of the images in our database are from this collection.

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