Michelle Isenhoff

Blood Moon: Early Photography

This is the third post in a four-part series about writing and researching my upcoming young adult historical fiction novel, Blood Moon, the second book in my Ella Wood trilogy. (Part 1: Women’s Education; Part 2: African American Soldiers.)

Photography plays an important role in Blood Moon. By the start of the Civil War, photographs had become common household items, but early methods of photography such as Daguerreotypes and tintypes only produced a single, positive image in reverse. Without a negative, mass production was impossible. In 1851, Frederick Scott Archer developed a process using glass plates which did produce a negative, making inexpensive paper copies possible. During the Civil War, enterprising photographers took advantage of this new technology. They printed thousands of collector cards with photographs of generals and politicians, as well as stereoscope cards, such as this example of General Ulysses Grant. Images of generals from both sides were in high demand.
Photography was first used to record military conflicts in a very limited sense during the Mexican War in the late 1840’s and the Crimean War in the early 1850’s, showing sites of battlefields after the fact. Early photographs of the Civil War showed primarily landscapes and posed groups of officers. But that was about to change. The images of the Antietam battlefield (below), taken only days after the battle and before the dead were buried, marked the first time the carnage of the battlefield was recorded on film.

Mathew Brady

On October 20, 1862, merely a month after the Antietam battle, Mathew Brady premiered his collection of battlefield images in his New York  gallery, which was open to the public. People were absolutely shocked. The morbid images showed the stark reality of the ever-escalating war and no doubt contributed to the New York draft riots six months later.

Interestingly, Mathew Brady recorded few, if any, of the many Civil War images attributed to him. He was, nevertheless, the primary organizer and financial backer of a staff of photographers. The Antietam images were taken by his assistants–Alexander Gardner and  James F. Gibson. Gardner broke with Brady in early 1863 over copyright issues, taking Gibson with him.

Below are some of the most notable images in Brady’s Antietam collection:
antietam 5

Gardner's caption for this photograph: "A Contrast: Federal buried, Confederate unburied, where they fell on the Battle-field of Antietam."
Alexander Gardner's original caption for this image: "A Lone Grave, on Battle-field of Antietam."

Next week, part 4: Military Innovations of the Charleston Campaign.

Blood Moon: Early Photography

4 thoughts on “Blood Moon: Early Photography

  1. Wow! I can’t believe how graphic and clear the photographs are! You must have had such fun researching. It certainly gives you a visual image of the time. Thanks for sharing!

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