Intro:

The emergence of war photography dramatically changed the way the public viewed armed conflicts. Unable to focus only on heroics and victories, civilians were forced to become intimate with the truths of warfare.

The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) was the first international conflict to be photographed. Of the few extant photographs from this war, most are portraits of officers. In the early years of war photography the size of the equipment and limitations of the technology made it impossible to capture actual battle images.

Roger Fenton was the first photographer to be formally assigned to create photo documentation of a war.  British publisher Thomas Agnew financed Fenton’s work for two years during the Crimean War (1853-1856). Fenton and assistants produced over 350 large-format negatives; the Henry holds in its collection an excellent Fenton print, an image of the French general Pierre Bosquet (1855).

The Henry is fortunate to have several examples of photographs from the first extensively documented war, the American Civil War (1861-1865). Mathew Brady organized and supervised a large number of field photographers throughout the war. His associates included Alexander Gardner, George Barnard, and Timothy O’Sullivan. Their work, and Brady’s, can be found in the Henry’s collection.  Many online sites are devoted to the photography of this epochal event in American history. See a partial list of URLs under Related Links.

Over its long history, photography of military conflicts evolved from pure documentation to being a fine art form. A number of exhibitions at the Henry have featured photographers who were deeply influenced by the genre. These can be found on the Henry’s Website by searching for tags in the site’s Index pages.

Erin Weible

(Roger Fenton: General Bosquet)

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Roger Fenton (England, 1819–1869)

General Bosquet. 1855

Salted print from wet collodion negative

7 3/4 x 6 1/8 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Monsen Study Collection of Photography, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen, 92.8

Roger Fenton took over 30 photographs of Pierre François Joseph Bosquet throughout the Crimean War. General Bosquet was one of the first to serve in the Crimean War; he became a popular figure after his victory over Russian forces at the Battle of Inkerman in 1854. A successful commander, he eventually became a senator and marshal of France.

(Mathew B. Brady: Abraham Lincoln)

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Mathew B. Brady (U.S., 1823–1896)

Abraham Lincoln. 1864, probably printed later

Albumen print

5 3/8 x 4 1/8 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, 2005.146

Matthew Brady, who extensively documented the American Civil War, is considered America’s first photojournalist. Brady believed the U.S. government would purchase his photographs and invested his entire fortune in the project of documenting the conflict. Unfortunately for Brady, the American public had grown weary of seeing war images and Congress declined to purchase his plates. Today, Brady’s documentation of the war is critical to historians’ understanding of this conflict. In addition to his war documentation, Brady also made over 30 portraits of Abraham Lincoln. His Lincoln photographs have been used as the source for images on the five-dollar bill and the Lincoln penny.

(George N. Barnard: U.S. Gunboat Stones River)

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George N. Barnard (U.S., 1819–1902)

U.S. Gunboat Stones River. 1862–1863

Albumen print

7 1/2 x 9 15/16 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, 2005.143

(Wood and Gibson with A. Gardner: Inspection of Troops at Cumberlanding, Pamunkey, May 1862)

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Wood and Gibson with A. Gardner (U.S., active 1862–1865)

Inspection of Troops at Cumberlanding, Pamunkey, May 1862. 1862

Albumen print

7 x 9 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Monsen Study Collection of Photography, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen, 91.42

(George N. Barnard: U.S. Steamer Wauhatchie, built at Bridgeport, Ala)

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George N. Barnard (U.S., 1819–1902)

U.S. Steamer Wauhatchie, built at Bridgeport, Ala. c. 1862–1865

Albumen print

7 7/8 x 9 11/16 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, 2005.144

(George N. Barnard: Destruction of Gen. J.D. Hood’s Ordnance Train in Georgia)

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George N. Barnard (U.S., 1819–1902)

Destruction of Gen. J.D. Hood's Ordnance Train in Georgia. c. 1865

Albumen print

10 3/8 x 14 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Monsen Study Collection of Photography, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen, 79.40

George Barnard was among the corps of photographers organized by Matthew Brady to make a photographic record of the American Civil War. Each photographer had his own traveling darkroom so that collodion plates could be processed at the scene.  Barnard took this image late in the war, after he had left Brady’s employ. 

(Timothy H. O’Sullivan: Incidents of the War: A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, July 1863)

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Timothy H. O’Sullivan (U.S., b. 1840–1882)

Incidents of the War: A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, July 1863. 1863

Albumen print

6 3/4 x 8 13/16 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen and The Boeing Company, 97.125

With Incidents of the War: A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, July 1863, photographers Timothy O’Sullivan and Alexander Gardner moved beyond the then-typical images of armies posed at rest to capture the grim reality of a battlefield. Early in the war O’Sullivan and Gardner worked as field photographers under Matthew Brady and are credited with having taken a sizeable percentage of the Civil War photographs attributed to Brady’s studio. This image of the Union dead at Gettysburg was made after they left Brady’s employ.