There are 6,066 photographs by Brady and his associates in the National Archives collections. Many of the images we’ve looked at and been inspired by come from Record Group 111, Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer. The negatives for these images were purchased for $2,840 by the War Department in 1874, when Brady’s fortunes had taken a turn for the worse, and he could not pay the bill to store them.
But before and during the Civil War, Brady was a successful and well-known photographer with several studios.
He also changed the way Americans viewed war. Although there are no action shots (the subjects had to be still, making it a process for the patient), the photographs of the battlefields, both before and after, and the wounded being operated on and recovering outside and in hospitals, made Americans see war as they never had before.
He and his associates in his studios photographed many famous civilians, including Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Walt Whitman, and Clara Barton. There are also photographs of groups of officers, looking dapper and well-groomed, and pictures of new recruits looking young and slightly anxious.
For me, the portraits are more fascinating than the battlefields. Whether bearded, mustachioed, or clean-shaven, these faces are a window into the souls of the Americans who lived through the Civil War.