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President Abraham Lincoln stands on the battlefield at Antietam, Maryland with Allan Pinkerton (the famed military intelligence operative who essentially invented the Secret Service, left) and Major General John A. McClernand (right) on October 3, 1862.Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress
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African American Union soldiers at Dutch Gap, Virginia in November 1864. Free Black men and formerly enslaved Black men joined the Union Army ranks as the war progressed and the Union lifted restrictions barring the raising of "colored" regiments due to the need for more men who were willing to fight. In total, more than 180,000 Black men served in the U.S. Army, with another 20,000-plus Black sailors serving in the U.S. Navy.Library of Congress
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About 20 minutes after the 6th Maine Infantry Regiment, known as the "Screaming Demons," hurdled over this section of wall in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on May 3, 1863, Andrew J. Russell photographed the Confederate soldiers who had died trying to hold it. In the sunken ditch between the road and the wall, several dead Confederate soldiers can be seen laying where they fell.U.S. National Archives
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The crew of the USS Monitor, one of the very first "ironclads" — steam-powered ships made with an iron hull — cook food on deck on July 9, 1862.U.S. Naval History And Heritage Command
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Corporal Francis E. Brownell, of the 11th New York Infantry "Fire Zouave" Regiment, in the Zouave uniform inspired by the elite French units of the same name. Brownell won the first Civil War Medal of Honor when he shot and killed a Confederate-sympathizing tavern owner who had just shot and killed Colonel E.E. Ellsworth, the leader of the Fire Zouaves, during the First Battle of Bull Run.Brady-Handy Photograph Collection/Library of Congress
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African Americans collecting the bones of soldiers killed during the Battle of Cold Harbor, near Mechanicsville, Virginia, in the spring of 1864.John Reekie/Library of Congress
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Three Confederate prisoners of war, captured at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in the summer of 1863.Library of Congress
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Dead Confederate soldiers lay fallen following the Battle of Antietam, which began in Sharpsburg, Maryland on September 17, 1862. This particularly bloody clash produced more than 15,000 casualties in the first eight hours of fighting alone. A farm lane cutting through the battlefield, seen here, was called "Bloody Lane" because of the 5,000 who died there.Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress
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Partially titled "A Harvest of Death," this Battle of Gettysburg photo from July 1863 shows only about a dozen of the thousands of men who died during the most important battle of the entire war. After the forces of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee clashed with those of Union Gen. George Meade in this southern Pennsylvania town, the South's northward advance was forever halted and the war had reached its turning point.Timothy H. O'Sullivan/Library of Congress
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Lewis Powell, 21, in a cell onboard a U.S. Navy ship in Washington, D.C. after his arrest on April 17, 1865 for the attempted murder of Secretary of State William H. Seward.
In a coordinated conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Seward, only Lincoln's assassination — at the hands of co-conspirator John Wilkes Booth — was successful.Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress
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Lewis Powell, 21, onboard a ship in the Potomac River after his arrest on April 17, 1865. Powell, along with three other co-conspirators, was convicted and hanged on July 7, 1865. Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress
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The 96th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment in formation at Camp Northumberland, Virginia in 1862. The 96th would see action at the Battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg.Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr
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U.S. Army Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in 1864, sitting on his horse at Federal Fort No. 7 in Atlanta, Georgia during his "March to the Sea" campaign of scorched-earth warfare across the Confederate states.George N. Barnard/U.S. Library of Congress/Getty Images
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Union officers and enlisted men stand around a 13-inch mortar, the "Dictator," on the platform of a flatbed railroad car in October 1864 near Petersburg, Virginia.David Knox/Library of Congress/Getty Images
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A sketch of the H.L. Hunley, a Confederate submarine that became the first submarine to sink an enemy warship in combat. In February 1864, the H.L. Hunley defeated the USS Housatonic, sinking it in less than five minutes and taking the lives of five sailors on board. However, the H.L. Hunley never made it back to port and the vessel was lost for more than 100 years before being discovered in 1970.Getty Images
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On June 18, 1864, a cannon took both of Alfred Stratton's arms. He was just 19 years old. He died 10 years later at the age of 29, after having fathered two children.Mütter Museum
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Bodies of Confederate artillerymen near Sharpsburg, Maryland after the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862 — the single deadliest day in U.S. military history.National Parks Service
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Considered one of the most hard-nosed generals in U.S. military history, William Tecumseh Sherman wasn't immune to the ravages of the conflict. In one wartime letter, he wrote: "I confess, without shame, I am sick and tired of fighting... tis only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated... that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation."Wikimedia Commons
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Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, a West Point graduate, was initially asked by newly-inaugurated President Abraham Lincoln to take command of the U.S. Army and put down the insurrection of the breakaway southern states of the Confederacy, including his native Virginia. Instead, he joined the Confederacy and became its most prominent general.Wikimedia Commons
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The ruined remains of a Charleston, South Carolina railroad depot in 1865, destroyed during Gen. Sherman's campaign in the Carolinas. The previous year, Sherman sent a letter to the mayor and city council of Atlanta, Georgia, warning the Confederate holdouts: "Now that war comes home to you, you feel very different... I want peace, and believe it can only be reached through union and war, and I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect and early success."Library of Congress
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Titled "A Sharpshooter's Last Sleep, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania," this image and other Civil War photos like this one present armed conflict in a grim, un-sanitized way that markedly contrasts with earlier centuries' artistic depictions of the glories of war.Alexander Gardner/National Gallery Of Art
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Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, an early Confederate hero and loyal lieutenant of Gen. Robert E. Lee, died shortly after being hit by friendly fire during the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863, which necessitated the amputation of his arm. His body weakened, Jackson died eight days later of pneumonia.Wikimedia Commons
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Union artillery at Yorktown, Virginia. Circa 1862.James F. Gibson/Library of Congress
Colorized Civil War Photos That Bring America’s Deadliest Conflict To Life
The growth of photography in the middle of the 19th century kicked off a revolution in the recording of history. Momentous events and public figures could now be documented in real-time in a way that hadn't been possible before unless you were actually there to bear witness.
Yet this revolution can sometimes be difficult to appreciate today, with old photos in sepia tones that look alien in our vibrantly-colored modern world. This is precisely what makes colorized photos of a period such as the Civil War both revelatory and important historical documents.
More than just artistic reproductions, such colorizations restore the immediacy of the actual historical events in question.
Library of CongressA colorized photo of African American Union soldiers during the Civil War. Dutch Gap, Virginia. November 1864.
Before the dawn of photography, people were used to seeing drawings or paintings of an event, pulled from the fallible memories of an artist or from the secondhand accounts of witnesses long after the fact. For most of human history, this was all the public could access — if they were lucky.
But photography brought the immediacy and stark truths of important events to the masses for the first time — no matter that it was black and white for audiences who had never seen a photograph of any kind before.
And today — with color cameras on the phones we all carry around in our pockets — pictures of, say, Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in shades of gray can feel like artifacts from another world. However, a colorized photo of the Civil War general reminds us that he was a flesh-and-blood person, one who was important to one of American history's defining chapters.
How The Civil War Transformed Photography From A Novelty Into A Mass Medium
Mütter MuseumOn June 18, 1864, a cannon shot took both of Alfred Stratton's arms. He was just 19 years old at the time.
Invented in 1824 by Nicéphore Niépce, heliography was the first-ever process created to preserve an image from the light striking a silver plate, bringing the world the very first documents akin to what we know as photographs. The exposure process still took several days, however, so its utility in documenting historical events was virtually nonexistent.
A few years later, Niépce began working with Louis Daguerre — of daguerreotype fame — who would go on to pioneer the process of photography after Niépce's death in the early 1830s. By the outbreak of the American Civil War some three decades later, pictures of people and events still weren't widespread, but that was all about to change.
Thanks to the advances in camera and photograph-processing technology, exposure times required for pictures were vastly reduced to a few seconds in most cases — or even less. New chemical processes for the capture, treatment, and development of a photographic image were far more cumbersome and delicate than those in place today, but they were refined enough for trained professionals to take cameras into the world and produce the first real documentary photographs anyone had ever seen.
As a result, the American Civil War became one of the first armed conflicts to be extensively documented through photography (with the Crimean War the only possible precursor). Intrepid photographers like Alexander Gardner and Mathew Brady took their cameras out onto the battlefields of the Civil War and captured its grim realities, stripping the conflict of the romance around warfare that had been commonly found in earlier periods.
The photographers who braved the Civil War battlefields blazed the trail for the next century and a half of photojournalists. Furthermore, they ensured photography's position as an indispensable mass medium able to transmit its message to the illiterate as easily as to the most well-read.
Chronicling The Bloodshed Of The Civil War
Library of CongressBodies of dead Union soldiers lie on the battlefield following the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. 1863.
More important than how photographers documented the period, however, is what they were actually documenting. The American Civil War was the world's first industrialized conflict that was fought with what we can consider modern weaponry in the grand scope of history.
Rifled muskets — which were far more accurate than previous generations of firearms — and modern artillery could cut down entire lines of men in battle, forcing lower-ranking officers and infantry commanders to abandon the old Napoleonic Era doctrine of an orderly line of soldiers firing volleys at the enemy over an open field before launching into a bayonet charge.
Instead, small units of soldiers sought cover and fired from behind walls and makeshift barricades, decimating enemy advances at longer range, and later even digging trenches into the ground in which to seek refuge.
Library of CongressA dead Confederate soldier at the Battle of Petersburg, in Petersburg, Virginia. 1865.
With these new ways to kill in place, the official number of Americans who died as a result of the war, both battlefield deaths and those who succumbed to their wounds later, long stood at about 618,000. However, a recent reassessment using census data in 2011 put the total number of deaths as high as 850,000, according to The New York Times.
As much as three percent of the total population of the United States was killed and the photos of the war delivered these horrors to the public in ways that simply weren't possible before the invention of photography.
After all, it was one thing to see your son, father, or husband go off to war and never return. That has been one of the constant sorrows of the human experience throughout history. It was another thing entirely to see pictures of the bodies of dead men littering the battlefields of the war and wonder if your loved one was one of the broken figures contained therein.
How Civil War Photos Revealed The Horrors Of Battle To The Masses
Wikimedia CommonsTwo portraits of President Abraham Lincoln; the left portrait from 1860, the year that he won the presidency; the right portrait from 1865, the year that he won the Civil War, shortly before his assassination.
The men who led their armies through the Civil War were photographed as well, their portraits recording the toll the war had taken on them. President Abraham Lincoln, for example, visibly aged in just four short years, appearing more than a decade older than he did on the eve of his election.
Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, whose campaign against Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia would eventually bring the war to an end, was captured in moments of exhausted candor during the campaign, stripped of some of the heroism that military commanders had long presented to the public.
Moreover, pictures of the Civil War captured death in ways that few who were removed from the actual battlefields had ever seen. In the early 20th century, the ugliness of war would hit home at its fullest as photography documented World War I's desolation throughout Europe, but the stripping away of war's mystique arguably began with the Civil War.
As Gen. Sherman famously wrote to James Yeatman, a Missouri philanthropist, in May 1865: "It is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated... that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation."
Civil War photography, for the first time, brought these grim realities to the public in ways that would change history forever.