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Civil War Photography
Civil War Photography
Get background on the development of photography during the Civil War.
More from Wes on Civil War Photography.
The camera's capacity for brutal honesty has forever transformed how we see armed conflict.
Before the Civil War, artists depicted war as larger-than-life confrontations, with romantic heroes portrayed at decisive moments of battle.
But with the birth of photography, a new art form was created.
This new vision was born not of ideology, but of the limitations of the photographer's craft.
Incredibly slow shutter speeds meant that photographers couldn't capture motion without creating an unrecognizable blur.
This made capturing images of real battle scenes virtually impossible.
Often, they waited for the battle to end and instead recorded the gruesome aftermath, sometimes days later.
But even as they created these stark images, photographers sometimes pushed the limits of reality in order to create a more powerful shot.
The most famous of these photos is called “Home of the Rebel Sharpshooter,” taken just after the Battle of Gettysburg.
The photo appears to show a Confederate soldier who died defending his post.
In reality, he was killed elsewhere, and his body was dragged into the frame by the photographer, who dressed up the scene with another soldier's rifle who was killed nearby.
Photographers felt that there would be a public demand for a genuine glimpse of the battlefield, but after the war ended in 1865, the public wanted nothing to do with images of death and destruction.
These remarkable photographs disappeared into libraries and vaults until they were unearthed years later to serve as witness to one of the bloodiest conflicts in U.S. history.
Image: Home of the Rebel Sharpshooter. Source: Library of Congress
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