On April 16, 1861 President Abraham Lincoln called on 75,000 soldiers to stop a rebellion of Southern states. Mathew B. Brady got permission from Lincoln to follow the troops to document what was supposed to be a glorious war. Brady however saw only the first engagement and lost his equipment in the disturbances of defeat. Deciding not to continue alone, Brady financed a division of field photographers who, together with those employed by Alexander Gardner and Union military command, made first photographic coverage of war.
Photographers improvised their reports. Because it was dangerous to take pictures on the battlefield, they could only depict strategic sites, preparations for or retreat from actions, camp scenes, and sometimes a terrifying aftermath of battles.
Photographers at that time worked with collodion-on-glass negatives, which required very delicate procedures even in the studio. When a photographer was ready to take a picture, a sheet of glass was cleaned, covered with collodion, dried, dipped into a bath with nitrate of silver, and then exposed in the camera for a few seconds and processed in the dark tent on the battlefield. Due to the danger of the situation, photographers rarely attempted to take pictures of the actions.
Although it is thought that Brady was the one who took most of the pictures of the war, he was actually involved in getting and publishing the pictures made by his expanding team of photographers, including Gardner, O’Sullivan, and many others.
At the high point of the war, Gardner was appointed to the staff of General George McClellan as a captain. At first, he together with a small group of photographers copied maps and charts for the Secret Service, which were propagated as photographic prints to division and field commanders. While Gardner was a manager of Brady’s studio in Washington D. C., he worked as a field photographer. In 1862, he left Brady and started his own business, taking with him most of Brady’s staff.
O’Sullivan was one of the many photographers, who started their careers as apprentices to Brady. When it was clear that the war wouldn’t end soon, O’Sullivan left the studio in Washington D. C. to become a field photographer for 4 years. He produces outstanding photos of bridges, hospitals, camps, and battlefields. The pictures were sent back to Washington D. C., to Brady and Gardner, whose gallery he officially joined in 1862.
At the end of the Civil War, Gardner published a work of two volumes, Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War. This sketch books still is a promoting model for photographic volumes.
On April 16, 1861 President Abraham Lincoln called on 75,000 soldiers to stop a rebellion of Southern states. Mathew B. Brady got permission from Lincoln to follow the troops to document what was supposed to be a glorious war. Brady however saw only the first engagement and lost his equipment in the disturbances of defeat.