The saying goes “that a picture says a thousand words”. But to the Civil War soldier and his family, the photograph was far more valuable than that. It was as essential as the paper, the writing utensil, and the postage stamps that kept men in touch with their loved ones back home. Soldiers often wrote of having their “likeness taken”, a popular expression referring to the act of being photographed. Quite often the “likeness” was included with his letter, mailed across the great void between the soldiers post and those that he longed for so far away. Originally intended to be a momentary glimpse of his military life, the photograph often became a sentimental icon for the grieving family whose soldier never returned from war.
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of those photographs sent to the soldier from the home front as well. To him, they were the visual reminders of the life that he’d left behind in exchange for the the flag, and the cause it represented. The photograph was a catalyst of many emotions for both the soldier, and the civilian.
The art (and business) of photography was still in it’s infancy when the American Civil War began.
The vast majority of the original images that have been reproduced on this site fall under three different categories with regard to type.
The Melainotype or “tintype”
Albumens and Carte de Visites