Photography was quite new during the Civil War. It was a time for experimentation with techniques and with subject matter, a time to learn that battles could not quite be captured yet. It was a time to record the images of great men, notable women, and the ravages of war that otherwise would not have reached the citizens in the further reaches of the country…or time.
Through this remarkable medium, we can gaze into the past. We can actually see the toughness of men like Gen. Sherman. We can see the tenderness of a mother and her baby. The style of the clothing is different, but some things never change.
We see the faces of the dead – nameless on the field awaiting burial…or as their families would remember them, gazing steadily into the camera in a blue or gray uniform, perhaps a sword or revolver in hand, ready to take on the enemy army and looking forward to returning home again. We see the ones they left behind: wives, children, sweethearts.
We see the devastation of war in the images of the destroyed Richmond. We can even see what Fort Sumter looked like soon after the opening shots of the war: the cannons fired by Pvt. Carmody are still recoiled, and the Columbiad fired from its recoiled position still lies fallen, halfway into the stair tower, next to the howitzer it dismounted. They’re the stories we read about, brought through time exactly as they were 150 years ago.
Take some time to study a photograph from the past. Really, really study it. What can you see?