Collection: Brady's Civil War, Mathew Brady

MATHEW BRADY Mathew B. Brady was born May 18, 1822 and died January 15, 1896. He was the youngest of three children of Irish immigrant parents. As a young man he studied photography in New York City under famed portrait painter William Page and Samuel F. B. Morse, the man who introduced photography to America with the daguerrotype invention of capturing images. By the time he was twenty-two he had opened his own photography studio. It wasn’t enough for him to photograph the rich and famous. In 1849, he opened a studio in Washington, D.C. and became one of the first photographers to use photography to chronicle national history. He stated:

“From the first, I regarded myself as under obligation to my country to preserve the faces of its historic men and mothers.”

Brady shocked America by bringing home the bloody and terrible conflict of the Civil War. He first started by capturing the images of young soldiers but soon moved on to document the war itself. This enterprise marked the first time in history that people became witnesses to the carnage of war through the photographic media. Brady, however, did not actually shoot many of these photographs. He organized and supervised a corps of traveling photographers, whose work he preserved in a collection. Each one was given a darkroom to develop photos in the field. At the same time he bought other negatives from private photographers, whose works were also printed by Brady or adapted as engravings in publications. All photos were credited: “Photograph by Brady.”

Sadly, the results of his work left him penniless and unappreciated. War-weary Americans had had enough of the terrible war that tore apart the country. The importance of his tremendous achievement remains as the first comprehensive photo-documentation of a war.