6 Great Civil War Photography Facts

Are you working with or looking for Civil War-era photos? You should know these important Civil War photography facts:

  1. By the 1860s, photography was widely available. Daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, iron tintypes and cartes de visite (or card photographs) and stereographs were all available during this time period. Tintypes were enormously popular during the Civil War because they were durable. Ambrotypes were fragile and daguerreotypes were bulky, but tintypes could be easily included in a letter and mailed home.
  2. The U.S. government financed a portion of the war using tax stamps. Legislation passed in 1864 required photographers to place tax stamps on the backs of images they sold to customers and to provide their initials and dates. Few photographers fully complied with the latter requirements, but today you’ll still find many Civil War-era photos with tax stamps on them.
  3. During this time period, it was common for soldiers to going off to war to have their pictures taken in uniform. Another common practice was to take pictures of the deceased, especially babies and children. A related practice was to include a photograph of a loved one in a portrait after they died.
  4. After a method was invented to print multiple images of cartes de visite at a time, it became a common hobby to collect images of family, friends and the famous in albums made for that purpose. For about 15 cents, it was possible to purchase cartes de visite of encampments at Bull Run or portraits of Lincoln and his general through Godey’s Ladies Book.
  5. Those who lost loved ones dressed in special mourning clothing. Mourning jewelry was even made, sometimes with a photo of the deceased person and/or a lock of hair. It is common to find photographs of bereaved widows or daughters in mourning dress, holding a carte de visite of the lost husband or father.
  6. Military men on both the Confederate and Union sides wore a variety of colors and designs, with each unit having its own uniform. Often soldiers’ loyalties, ranks and units can be identified in photographs by what they are wearing, including belt buckles, headgear and weaponry.

Learn more about Civil War photography in my book, Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album. Need professional help identifying an old photograph? Send it to me for an online consultation, a cost-effective way to learn more about your photo. If you are looking for someone to speak to your group on this or a related topic, contact me here.

Example: Pre-Deployment Photographs

Civil War photography facts Before marching off to war, soldiers often posed for portraits with their loved ones as keepsakes: one to stay at home and one to accompany the soldier during the war.

– Collection of the Library of Congress.