The First Time in Pictures
The American Civil War was the first war to be documented in such detail with pictures. The volume and detail of these pictures made the American public hungry for more and more details. To further this desire for information Samuel Morse, of Morse code fame founded a school for the study of photography. Mathew Brady, some say the preeminent Civil War photographer, if not the most prolific attended this school.
The US Army became very interested in this photographic portrait of the battles. Pictures presented a very concise way to document battle actions, adding to the after action reports filed by the commanders. After all “A picture is worth a thousand words”. The Army decided to employ civilians to document the war. This was the first time civilians were in the employ of the US military. These men had no rank or official status but were referred to as “Captain”, some by other military ranks. Andrew J. Russell was the first official civilian Military Photographer.
Mr. Russell designed and put into action a manual for the military with photographs, a first for the Military. One has to remember that a very large majority of the troops were illiterate, adding pictures to the manual made things easier for the average troop. Mathew Brady put together his own album of the war. He titled it “Brady’s Album Gallery” This was a collection of photos taken on the battle field and areas around the battle field. Brady produced several albums of his photographs of the battles, selling them to the hungry public. The American Civil War was the first Major War to have photographs put into teaching manuals and compiled into albums for the general public.
Brady organized his own small band of photographers to document the Wars events. These groups were the first such groups organized during a War to document the actions both in word and pictures. These groups were not part of the civilians employed by the military but “imbedded” civilians traveling with the troops. Some of the most famous and probably the most gruesome pictures in the War albums were of the Battle of Antietam, the single bloodiest battle fought on American soil. The military was experimenting with Professor Lowe’s balloons for scouting. Naturally someone thought, why not put a photographer in one of the balloons. For the first time photographers were employed by the military to take photos of the enemy while airborne. Brady’s people also used hot air balloons on several occasions. Everyone fast realized that they were sitting ducks. This practice was not regularly used for photographs but was used extensively as a scouting and intelligence tool. To this day the photographs taken, mostly by the Brady group are used for research on battles. A first that continues to be put to great use.