Guide To Finding Civil War Photographs
By Bob Zeller, CCWP president and Rick Walton, CCWP member
Thousands of Civil War photographs are available online for free. Many of these are scanned from the original glass plate negatives at ultra-high resolution. All Civil War photographs are now in the public domain, and reproductions can be used in any fashion by anyone. Users are strongly encouraged, however, to properly credit their sources for photographs and to abide by the rules and requirements of institutions that are providing images.
In many cases, Civil War images that are being sold online by stock photo companies, often at exorbitant prices, are available for free from the Library of Congress, the National Archives, or other sites. We encourage you to check the sites below before spending significant sums to acquire a reproduction and use rights to an image that is available elsewhere for no cost. In some cases, however, a rare Civil War image may be available only from a single institution or source, and it is customary for those institutions and sources to charge a fee for a reproduction of the image as well as a separate use fee for publication or broadcast. Please abide by the institution rules and regulations, and please include proper credit to the original source when using Civil War photos.
Body of young Confederate and grave of Michigan soldier at Antietam (Alexander Gardner | Library of Congress)
List of Photograph Archive Resources
There is no fee to download and use any photos from the online collections of the Library of Congress. (https://www.loc.gov)
The single best source for Civil War photographs is the U.S. Library of Congress, which holds the core collections of original Civil War documentary photographic negatives produced by Alexander Gardner, Mathew Brady and the E. & H.T. Anthony & Co. The library has more than 7,000 original glass plate negatives and several thousand more original prints that are available online for free download. Most are available at different resolution levels, including high resolution.
More than 2,000 of these images were photographed stereoscopically for viewing in 3-D. Most are still available in their stereo format, either by downloading a single, uncut stereo negative or by downloading two separate half-stereo negatives. Many of the home pages for individual im-ages show two, three or even more separate negatives. In many cases, pages with two negatives are showing both halves, separated, of a stereo negative. But many pages with multiple negatives also show copy glass negatives, which are of lesser quality than the originals. Copy negatives are always displayed below original negatives. The available download links are shown below the thumbnails of each image. When publishing or using these images, please credit The Library of Congress. By providing the call number as well, you will allow others to easily track down the image.
Here is the link to the search engine for the library’s “Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints” photograph collection:
We recommend that researchers also check the full Prints & Photographs online catalog of the library’s Prints and Photographs division, which includes prints and engravings.
A search of the comprehensive P&P online catalog will cover the Brady-Handy Collection, a largely post-war collection of some 5,000 images, nearly all of them portrait negatives by Mathew Brady that include many prominent Civil War personalities. Most of the Brady-Handy Collection is not covered in a search of Civil War photographs. The Brady-Handy Collection is, of course, included in the full P&P search. Here is a separate link to search the Brady-Handy Collection: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/brhc/
Stereoview of Robert E. Lee’s residence in Richmond (Library of Congress)
Over a span of some 50 years, Center for Civil War Photography Advisory Board member Robin Stanford collected more than 1,500 Civil War stereo views. In 2015, The Library of Congress acquired more than 550 of her rarest views, including the largest known group of vintage Osborn & Durbec Confederate and southern views, featuring the only known series of real slavery scenes. Other sub-collections include Hubbard & Mix plantation views, rare G.O. Brown stereo views from the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, Confederate views by George S. Cook and many other obscure and choice photographs. Nearly all of the views are now online and available for free, high-resolution downloading. You can browse the entire Robin Stanford Collection here: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?q=robin%20stanford&co=civwar
Brady Album Gallery card, Fair Oaks battlefield (Library of Congress)
For the past few years, The Center for Civil War Photography has provided assistance to The Library of Congress in two critical areas. We have provided direct financial assistance to make possible the scanning and online cataloging of unscanned Civil War photographs in the library’s collections. And we have facilitated the library’s acquisition of the Robin Stanford Collection, an assemblage of more than 550 vintage Civil War stereo views, including the largest collection of Confederate war views known to exist. The Center has been involved, one way or another in the preservation and accessibility of more than 750 Civil War photographic prints and stereo views now online at the library. You may review all of them HERE.
The CCWP provided the financing to allow the library to scan and put online almost 50 vintage 1861 or 1862 Brady Album Gallery cards. These are mounted, labeled, vintage albumen half-stereo, 4×5-inch prints. These 2-D photos originally were taken in 3-D and were also sold as ste-reo views. Most of the original negatives for these prints still exist and are also at the library. You can browse and download the Brady Album Gallery cards HERE.
Vermont photographer G.H. Houghton came to Virginia in 1862 to photograph Vermont troops and other signs during the Peninsula Campaign. CCWP provided the funding for the scanning and online placement of 25 vintage Civil War salted paper, albumen and ambrotype prints by Houghton. They are here: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?q=houghton&co=civwar
In 1865, photographers Levi & Cohen took a series of photographs in war-torn Richmond just after the city was captured. CCWP provided the funding to scan and place online 17 Levi & Co-hen images. You can see them here: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?q=cohen&co=civwar
Major Robert Olin Peatross, 30th Virginia Infantry Regiment (Liljenquist Family Collection, Library of Congress)
The Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War of Ambrotypes and Tintypes has 1,600 digitized photos. The majority of the ambrotypes and tintypes are portraits by uni-dentified photographers of Civil War soldiers, primarily Union soldiers, as well as some portraits of civilians.
Here is the link to the Liljenquist Family Collection (Library of Congress): http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/lilj/
Additional sources for 19th-century portraits may be found at:
- Faces of the Civil War- Ron Coddington Blog: http://facesofthecivilwar.blogspot.com/?view=snapshot
- LOC Portraits of Named Civil War Enlisted Men: https://www.loc.gov/rr/print/list/233_cwsoldiers.html
- NPS “Search for Soldiers (No Photos): https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-soldiers.htm
- Places like the National Portrait Gallery/American Museum of American History; the Met Museum; the Getty ; state archives; local libraries, and local museums may not have a specific Civil war collection but are still worth searching. For example this complex search at the NPG yields great results HERE.
The Library of Congress has a flickr presence. Check the Library of Congress Albums page often to see if new Civil war related albums have been added:
They currently have the following Civil War albums:
- —“Best of Civil War Faces” is an introduction to the Liljenquist families favorites: https://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/albums/72157634792460667
- “Civil War Faces” the Liljenquist collection: https://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/albums/72157625520211184
- A small album called “Gettysburg”: https://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/albums/72157634373738687
- An album called Civil War 3D: https://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/albums/72157626323776739
Alexander Gardner image of Libby Prison in Richmond, April 1865 (National Archives)
There is no fee to download and use any photos from the online collections of the National Archives. (https://www.archives.gov)
The National Archives and Records Administration’s College Park, Maryland, headquarters, known as Archives II, is the home of some 9,000 original Civil War photographic negatives and prints, mostly negatives. This assemblage includes a collection of almost 6,000 Civil War nega-tives, mostly portraits, that Mathew B. Brady sold to the United States for $25,000 in 1875. It also includes negatives shot for the U.S. Army by various contract photographers during the war. This includes images taken for the government during Sherman’s campaign in Tennessee and Georgia by contract photographer George B. Barnard, as well as images taken by Capt. Andrew J. Russell for the U.S. Military Railroad and many other images taken by unidentified contract photographers. The National Archives also has more than 100 original stereo view cards pro-duced by Samuel Cooley. (Not all of these have been digitized.)
Many of them, grouped by subject matter, are available online at the below link at several resolution levels.
Pictures of the Civil War, Select Audiovisual Records at the National Archives:
Another select Brady collection can be found here:
The U.S. National Archives has digitized over 6,000 images from the series Mathew Brady Photo-graphs of Civil War-Era Personalities and Scenes (National Archives’s Local Identifier 111-B) and included them in their online FLICKR catalog.
A search engine on the page allows one to refine searches within the archives’ photostream, but may also pull in non-Civil War images. Click the following to start your search.
The Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History has more than 3,700 Civil War photographs available online capturing both battlefields and personal portraits. The institute provides low-resolution thumbnails online so anyone can browse what they have. It charges a fee for providing online access and reproductions and may charge a separate fee for publishing images. More information can be found on the institution’s website or by contacting the institution directly.
This link is a specific filtered search of the Gilder-Lehrman collection for “Civil War photographs.”
The MOLLUS-Massachusetts collection of Civil War photographic prints is available online at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pa. The MOLLUS-Massachusetts (Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States-Massachusetts chapter) collection was assembled by former Union officers Albert Ordway and Arnold Rand in the 1880s and put in 118 volumes that contain some 23,000 images. These albums were assembled image-by-image as Ordway and Rand received photos from other veterans, so there is no uniformity to the order of subjects. High resolution images of the pages of each volume are now available online. The most practical way to use this resource is to search the volumes using the AHC’s search engine here:https://arena.usahec.org/web/arenaThe search engine pulls up all of the AHC’s online records of a subject, including the MOLLUS collection photographs. Searchers may also browse individual volumes using these links to each volume. Click here.
The Museum’s photographic collection includes examples of 19th-century photography. Faces from the past – some famous, some not – peer from their collection of daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, and cartes-de-visite. The low resolution scans are watermarked. Use the link below to view over 7,000 images. The search bar can be used to search a specific person, battlefield or object. Search
The Photographs in this low resolution, online collection are drawn from 12 archival collections housed at the New-York Historical Society that relate to the Civil War. Pictorial items in-clude 731 stereographs (stereo view cards), and over seventy photographs from an album as well as other interesting Civil war ephemera.
- Civil War Treasures Main page: http://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16694coll47
- Civil War Stereographs: http://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p16694coll47/id/2502
- Photographs of the War of Rebellion: http://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p16694coll47/id/548
More than 500 Civil War images are featured at low resolution online at the New York Public Library’s “The Pageant of America” Collection Digital Gallery. While there isn’t a specific Civil was collection you can search “Civil War” or more specific terms like “Bull Run” or Antietam” are HERE.
The link to the main page for the entire digital gallery is here: http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/
There is also a series of filters on the left hand column of the results page that can be used to fur-ther narrow your search or discover interesting sub-collections. Here are two useful examples:
The Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Va., is the home of the David L. Hack Collection of Civil War Photographs capturing both battlefields and personal portraits. The museum displays 325 images online. Search
National Park Service historian Michael D. Gorman provides a wealth of information and links about Richmond-related Civil War photography at his “Civil War Richmond” website (http://www.mdgorman.com).
Here’s the photography home page:
The following are other collections that you may find useful. Many of these originated from the collections listed above, but may represent a theme. Of course, photographs are being catalogued and added to internet sites all the time, so it is always a good idea to do a Google search for your specific subject interest.
- Atlantic Photo Albums: http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2012/02/the-civil-war-part-1-the-places/100241
- Huntington Digital Library Photo Albums: http://hdl.huntington.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16003coll6
- CCWP: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ccwpdigitalarchive/albums
- North Carolina Civil War Images: https://www.flickr.com/photos/north-carolina-state-archives/sets/72157623124354569/
This famous compilation by Francis T Miller, published in 1911, reproduces more than 3,300 Civil War photographs. The copyright has expired, so all images in these books can be freely copied and used, although you should still give credit. Be careful about using the written information that accompanies the photographs. It is sometimes inaccurate.
These books are available in low resolution scans for free through Google Books: https://books.google.com (search The Photographic History of the Civil War)
DVDs or a flash drive containing high quality scans of all the images in all 10 volumes are available for a fee at Civil War Digital:
The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies contain a wealth of documentary information about photography during the Civil War as it related to the armies. The search engine at the below page is an invaluable tool for researching the 128 volumes of the ORs, not only for information about civil war photography, but for information about the the subjects and incidents photographed during the war.
- Ohio State University: http://ehistory.osu.edu/books/official-records
- Cornell University: http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/m/moawar/waro.html
- The Atlas can be found at LOC here: https://www.loc.gov/item/03003452/
The New York State Military Museum and Veteran’s Research Center has about 2,500 cartes de visite available for online viewing. The carte de visite was one of the most widely used photographic processes during the Civil War. Most are of known men who were fighting for the New York Volunteers. Use the search bar to search for a specific Name or regiment: https://www.nyheritage.org/collections/civil-war-carte-de-visite-collection.