The American civil war which took place from 1861 to 1865, plunged America into the worst war of it’s history. With more than 625,000 deaths in 4 years.
Photography, having been invented 20 years earlier by Niepce and Daguerre, allowed the world to discover the horror and the reality of war.
U.S Civil War: the first war to be photographed
The civil war was the first big conflict that was photographed. Some brave photographers risked their lives to photograph battlefields.
These civil war photos were widely displayed and sold in very big quantities around the country.
Civil War photographers
Numerous photographers covered the civil war. Some became very famous, such as Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner or Timothy O. ‘ Sullivan, but some lost their lives there. These war photographers were able to touch a wide audience by the emotion provoked by the realism of these photographs. The Americans and the whole world discovered the slaughter of this war from the comfort of their homes.
Photographer: a very difficult job in wartime!
To take a photo in the middle of a battlefield at this time could be considered a great feat. Photography was still at it’s beginning; to take a photograph it was necessary to use heavy and not practical equipment. The last photographic technique in date was wet glass plate photography. A process which allowed capturing an image on a chemically coated glass plate.
3D Civil War photos: “the Stereoscope”
Today, when we think about a picture from the 1860’s we tend to say that they were primitive. But photographers of that period had already invented a way to allow one to see a photo in 3 dimensions: ” the Stereoscope”. The procedure consists of utilizing a camera with two lenses which capture 2 photos with a gap of couple centimeters. After developing, it is necessary to use a stereo viewer to see the photo in 3D. The result is surprising especially with images so crude as those of the civil war.
The civil war was thus the first war that photography encountered. The famous and numerous photos of the civil war inspired a lot of new war photographers During WWI and the following conflicts. Unfortunately at the end of the war, thousands of photographic plates were destroyed or sold to horticulturists to be used as glass panels in greenhouses.