Daily Picture Show

Civil War Photography

In preparation for President's Day on Feb. 16, The Smithsonian is hosting an education online conference series on Abraham Lincoln today and tomorrow. Explore their site for more information on our 16th President. All images courtesy The Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

  • This Civil War photo album, compiled in the United States and owned by a man in Switzerland, was donated to the Smithsonian. The following images come from its pages.
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    This Civil War photo album, compiled in the United States and owned by a man in Switzerland, was donated to the Smithsonian. The following images come from its pages.
  • Abraham Lincoln.
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    Abraham Lincoln.
  • Abraham Lincoln and one of his four sons.
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    Abraham Lincoln and one of his four sons.
  • Actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865.
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    Actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865.
  • Union Army soldier Thomas P. "Boston" Corbett killed Lincoln's assassin, Booth, and disappeared shortly thereafter.
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    Union Army soldier Thomas P. "Boston" Corbett killed Lincoln's assassin, Booth, and disappeared shortly thereafter.
  • Vice President Andrew Johnson succeeded Lincoln, becoming the nation's 17th president.
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    Vice President Andrew Johnson succeeded Lincoln, becoming the nation's 17th president.
  • The photo album includes Union military leaders: Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (two photos at upper left), Gen. Philip Henry Sheridan (bottom row, second from left) and Adm. David Farragut (upper row, second from right).
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    The photo album includes Union military leaders: Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (two photos at upper left), Gen. Philip Henry Sheridan (bottom row, second from left) and Adm. David Farragut (upper row, second from right).
  • Edwin McMasters Stanton served as secretary of war through most of the Civil War and Reconstruction.
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    Edwin McMasters Stanton served as secretary of war through most of the Civil War and Reconstruction.
  • William H. Seward served as United States Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.
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    William H. Seward served as United States Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.
  • Jefferson Finis Davis served as President of the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865.
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    Jefferson Finis Davis served as President of the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865.
  • An engineer and top graduate of West Point, Robert E. Lee commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.
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    An engineer and top graduate of West Point, Robert E. Lee commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.
  • Sheridan is most famous for his defeat of Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley and for his cavalry pursuit of Lee, culminating in the Confederate surrender at Appomattox.
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    Sheridan is most famous for his defeat of Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley and for his cavalry pursuit of Lee, culminating in the Confederate surrender at Appomattox.
  • William Starke Rosecrans was a Union Army general.
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    William Starke Rosecrans was a Union Army general.
  • Congregationalist clergyman Henry Ward Beecher made his name as an abolitionist.
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    Congregationalist clergyman Henry Ward Beecher made his name as an abolitionist.
  • After his military career, Union Army Gen. Ambrose Everett Burnside served as governor and then U.S. senator from Rhode Island.  His penchant for whiskers set off a style known even today as sideburns.
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    After his military career, Union Army Gen. Ambrose Everett Burnside served as governor and then U.S. senator from Rhode Island. His penchant for whiskers set off a style known even today as sideburns.
  • Farragut was the first admiral of the U.S. Navy, serving during the Civil War.
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    Farragut was the first admiral of the U.S. Navy, serving during the Civil War.

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Photography was only about 20 years old at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. At that time, there was a type of photograph called a carte de visite, or cdv. It was typically a portrait photograph made with a glass wet-plate negative, allowing unlimited copies and prints.

This collection provided by the Smithsonian Institution is an example of a cdv photo album. It was assembled in the U.S. for a Swiss citizen shortly after the Civil War. Today, the album represents the international interest in the American Civil War that evidently favored the Union Army. It provides an interesting selection of players and is a visual springboard for studying the Civil War.

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