The Record - January 1998

Brady on NARA Web Site

The National Archives and Records Administration has made available on its web site its entire collection of Civil War-era photographs taken by the famed photographer Mathew Brady and his associates. The 6,176 photographs, originating as glass plate negatives, include portraits of well-known Union and Confederate commanders of the war, Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet officers, senators, congressmen, and other noted personalities of the day. They also document the existence of ordinary soldiers, recording daily life in camp, troops on the move, battlefield scenes, naval vessels, railroads, supply dumps, and hospitals.

Purchased by the War Department in 1874-75, and accessioned by the National Archives in 1940, the images represent a Brady-coordinated effort, unprecedented in scope and creative self-promotion, to record history-making American personages, locales, and events in what was then the relatively new medium of photography. Especially with regard to the views taken in the field, the photographs by Brady, Alexander Gardner, Timothy O'Sullivan, David Knox, and others reveal the technical limitations of the medium at mid-century, photographers' strategies for overcoming those limitations, and a reality that emerges, amid the posing and framing, in often unexpected ways. These are images, so rich in detail and so evocative of time, place, and human consciousness, that have informed and intrigued viewers from the 1860's to the 1990's.

The ability to get ready access to NARA's entire collection of Brady photographs, and to be able to compare those images with similar ones in other collections, will greatly assist scholars and other researchers interested in the visual documentation of the Civil War.

Crew of the gunboat Hunchback

The gunboat Hunchback was originally a New York ferryboat.
(NARA, Brady Collection, 111-B-2011)