Soldiers, Union and Confederate, adjusted to camp life.
Drill was part of the troops’ daily existence.
General Grant, on the far left, photographed with staff following the Union victory at Lookout Mountain, outside Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1963
A Union soldier from the 8th Pennsylvania Infantry held the tattered flag of his division with pride.
Perhaps more than any other conflict in the history of the United States of America, the Civil War changed the course of the country. The expansive growth during the first 90 years of the Union ushered in great change, especially in the Northern states where metropolises were forming and industry was taking off. The Southern states, largely agricultural with cotton and tobacco plantations fueled by slave labor, were slower to transform. The early American ideals of small government and the individual rights of the states remained strong in the region. The divide between the two ways of life became insurmountable, and in 1861, America went to war with itself.
The fight to preserve the Union transformed into a war against slavery, and when it was over, America emerged an altered nation. During the four years of the conflict, 620,000 lives were lost, whole towns and cities burned, and virtually no American was left unaffected. The Civil War in 500 Photographs chronicles this heart-wrenching and heroic narrative, while serving as a record of the emerging capabilities of the photographer’s lens.
The new technology of photography was rapidly developing at the time, and as the conflict intensified, photojournalism and battlefield photography took hold, thanks to pioneers like Mathew Brady and George S. Cook.
Today, the pictures, while over 150 years old, have lost none of their power to communicate the brutality of war. Readers will note that while the photographs of the era were black and white or sepia-toned, The Civil War in 500 Photographs contains some images that have been colorized, providing a new sense of urgency to the stories they tell. The stoicism of troops assembled for battle and the determination of generals plotting strategies draw the viewer in, while the fields of dead and wounded offer irrefutable reminders of the incredible cost of this conflict.
In the words of Abraham Lincoln: “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” This collection pulls at the same mystic chord—the one that connects brother to brother and all Americans across the nation.