Mathew Brady’s Civil War

 
 

When death grants me that final conscious recollection, it may be of a Union soldier lying on the battlefield of Gettysburg, not simply deceased but disemboweled and (literally) dis-armed by a Confederate shell. I first saw the image sixty-five years ago, when aged ten, in a book of American Civil War photographs taken by Mathew B. Brady and his associates [1]. The book itself had been published one hundred five years ago by Edward B. Eaton, who had acquired a collection of seven thousand glass-plate negatives of Brady’s Civil War photographs [2]. My family’s copy of the book had belonged to William Hartwell Eveleth, my great-grandfather and namesake, a Civil War veteran. Among its images some made such visceral impressions on me that my consciousness encounters them still in long-forgotten corners of my memory.

Below is a selection of photographs from Eaton’s book. [3, 4]

References and Notes

    [1] Edward Bailey Eaton, Original Photographs taken on the Battlefields during the Civil War of the United States by Mathew B. Brady and Alexander Gardner, who operated under the Authority of the War Department and the Protection of the Secret Service. Edward Bailey Eaton, Hartford, Connecticut, 1907. 112 pp.; also a partial index of Eaton’s negatives. Available online. The image described in the first sentence above is on page 63.

    [2] According to the Wikipedia entry for Mathew Brady, “his own negatives passed in the 1870s to E. & H. T. Anthony, of New York, in default of payment for photographic supplies. They were kicked about from pillar to post for ten years, until John C. Taylor found them in an attic and bought them; from this they became the backbone of the Ordway-Rand collection; and in 1895 Brady himself had no idea of what had become of them. Many were broken, lost, or destroyed by fire. After passing to various other owners, they were discovered and appreciated by Edward Bailey Eaton, who set in motion events that led to their importance as the nucleus of a collection of Civil War photos published in 1912 as The Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes.”

    [3] During the Civil War Mathew Brady employed and equipped as many as twenty photographers whom he dispatched to accompany various military campaigns. Brady, being based in Washington, DC, made frequent trips into the field to collect his employees’ negatives; and for completeness of coverage he also purchased negatives from independent photographers. With the passage of time it became common to refer to all of these photographs as if they had been taken by Brady himself.

    [4] The U.S. National Archives has digitized over 6,000 images from the series Mathew Brady Photographs of Civil War-Era Personalities and Scenes (National Archives's Local Identifier 111-B). These images are slowly being uploaded to Flickr.

William Day (22 December 2012)