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The Best Civil War Photos on LIFE.com

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Mary Walker

"Mary Walker (1832 – 1919) was the Army's first female surgeon during the Civil War, but led an altogether storied life as an early American abolitionist, feminist, and doctor. In 1864, she was captured by Confederate troops and charged as a spy, but was eventually released in a prisoner exchange. After the ordeal, the government awarded Walker the Medal of Honor for her bravery, the only woman to ever given such an honor. Here, Walker pictured circa 1865." Source: Life.com

The good folks at LIFE.com have published some of the most compelling photographs of the American Civil War in recognition of the Confederate surrender on April 9, 1865.  At their invitation, I’ve grabbed a few including the photo above of Mary Walker, timely given the soon to be released Civil War era historical novel My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira. (See “New Arrivals from Publishers” on the center nav bar of Wig-Wags.com).

The picture below of a young sailor I ran across in my reading on the Battle of Mobile Bay.

Civil War Navy Powder Monkey

A young "powder monkey" -- one who filled canon cartridges below a ship's deck -- on the USS New Hampshire in Charleston, South Carolina, circa 1864. Source: LIFE.com

You can link to the full gallery on LIFE.com here.

Capturing the Civil War: The Photographic Record

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I am thoroughly impressed with the photographic record of the American Civil War. In my ongoing search for “primary sources,” I have been exploring the National Archives and The Library of Congress. The photographic collections at both are simply excellent. Long time historians in the field are no doubt quite familiar with these. For me, humble graduate student, these are a real find. And as we all know, this kind of photographic record sets the American Civil War apart from previous wars. Because I want to have easy access to photographs, I’ve created a photographs “category” on the right nav bar. The following are the best two sources I’ve found to date.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Selected Civil War Photographs[Charleston Harbor, S.C. Deck and officers of U.S.S. monitor Catskill; Lt. Comdr. Edward Barrett seated on the turret].[Charleston Harbor, S.C. Deck and officers of U.S.S. monitor Catskill; Lt. Comdr. Edward Barrett seated on the turret].
The collection includes 1,118 photographs of “scenes of military personnel, preparations for battle, and battle after-effects.” Both Confederate and Union soldiers of officer and enlisted ranks are represented. Also in the collection are albums of CDVs (carte-de-visite) – with over 200 visiting card photos representing a “who’s who” of the time of the Lincoln presidential administration.

Many of the photos have been attributed to Matthew Brady who supervised or collected them and showed – for the first time in history – the horrors of war. More on him in a future post. Amazing fellow.

The photo above was taken in Charleston Harbor, S.C. and is of the deck and officers of U.S.S. monitor Catskill; Lt. Comdr. Edward Barrett seated on the turret. It is categorized as “Photographs of the Federal Navy, and seaborne expeditions against the Atlantic Coast of the Confederacy — the Federal Navy, 1861-1865″ [Call Number: LC-B811- 3412].

The National Archives: Pictures of the Civil War
Photos in this collection are organized as follows:
Activities – Army Life, Army Units, Cavalry, Civilians, Communications and intelligence, Councils, Engineering, Foreign Observers, Generals in the Field, Medical, Morale, Navies, Ordnance, Photographers and Their Equipment, Prisoners and Prisons, Quartermaster and Commissary, RailroadsConstruction of telegraph lines 1864
Places – Battle Areas, Richmond, Va., Washington, D.C., and Environs
Portraits – Abolitionists, Artists and Authors, Confederate Army Officers, Confederate Officials, Enlisted Men, Federal Army Officers, Federal Navy Officers, Foreign Diplomats, Government Officials, Women

Lincoln’s Assassination

The photograph above captures the “Constructing of telegraph lines, April 1864.” It was photographed by Timothy H. O’Sullivan. Reference number 165-SB-62.
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Copyright © 2007 Rene Tyree