Collection finding aids of photograph collections, Special Collections Department


Special Collections Department, Maryland Historical Society
201 West Monument Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21201

Processed by Kelli Kanvin in 2005 and updated by James Risk, June-September, 2010 and Lara Westwood, September, 2013

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The Civil War is often viewed as America’s bloodiest war. It lasted from 1861-1865 and tore the Union apart, frequently pitting brother against brother. The stirring, and sometimes graphic, images of the Civil War were captured, however by some of the leading photographers of the time, including the famous Mathew B. Brady.

Before the Civil War even began, Mathew Brady was a well-known photographer and the proprietor of a gallery in New York City. Brady was known for establishing the idea of creating a photographic catalog of the most distinguished Americans, and had amassed an impressive collection. In 1851, Brady met Alexander Gardner during a trip to Europe, and in 1856, the Scotsman and fellow photographer became business partners with Brady. Gardner was an admirable businessman, and in 1858, the team opened a second photographic studio and gallery in Washington, DC. This was a prime location for their business because as political tensions over slavery were mounting, Gardner and Brady made a point to photograph politicians from both sides of the debate for the collection of distinguished Americans, sensing that dissolution of the Union lay in the near future.

In 1861, Gardner brought the Carte DeVisite to their business, whose small size allowed for quick reproduction and portability, and was extremely popular. As Southern states began seceding and state militias were forming and converging on Washington, this new form of photography became even more popular and kept Brady and Gardner busy, with soldiers eager to pose.

As the war officially began, Brady and Gardner wanted to continue to photograph its images to document history. Brady secured approval for photographers to be in the field with the Union army, and Gardner struck a deal with photographic suppliers E. & H. T. Anthony to reproduce wartime images on a massive scale for sale to the public, while paying the Brady Gallery a percentage of the profits and crediting each image as a “Photo by Brady.” There were many technical limitations to shooting in the field including poor light, weather and the need for clean water. Additionally, any motion in the scene would create a blur on the negative, so all photographs were posed portraits or were of stationary objects or scenery. More importantly, the photographers were not allowed in the vicinity of the battle action, so most photographs of the war were deceptively peaceful, with many of them showing soldiers in camp.

In 1862, sometime after the Battle of Antietam, Gardner ended his partnership with Brady and opened his own photography studio and gallery in Washington, taking with him one of Brady’s most experienced field operators, Timothy O’Sullivan. Throughout the remainder of the war, Brady and Gardner would be in competition for the best photographs. With the departure of Gardner and O’Sullivan, Brady hired his nephew, Levin Corbin Handy, to assist him. Many photographs of the Civil War have been credited to Handy, however, this appears unlikely. At the time that Handy began working with Brady, he was approximately 12 years old. While later photographs after the war could very well be the work of Levin Handy, those credited to him during the Civil War years are likely photographs in which he assisted in the identification of the image.

By the end of the war, Brady was so in debt from financing his field operations that he was forced to sell his pictures. But he was unable to convince the government to buy the complete set of his pictures, and so in 1868, the Washington gallery was sold at auction to pay Brady’s debts and some of the negatives were dispersed. Finally, in 1875, Brady received $25,000 from Congress for title to his collection of negatives. The E. & H. T. Anthony Company, who had helped finance Brady’s wartime effort, continued to publish and sell Brady’s war images and acquired ownership of a portion of his negatives as payment for a debt. At the turn of the century, the Anthony Company appears to have sold Brady’s negatives to various proprietors, and consequently, numerous collectors have ended up with pieces of the Brady’s Civil War collection. It is entirely possible that through this means, the Boyd Family acquired a portion of Brady’s photographs.

Information in this narrative came from, and additional information can be found in the following sources:

Armstrong, Jennifer. Photo by Brady: A Picture of the Civil War. New York: Atheneum Books, 2005.

Miller, Francis Trevelyan, ed. The Photographic History of the Civil War. New York: Review of Reviews Co., 1911.

National Portrait Gallery, Mathew Brady Portraits. Smithsonian Institution. April 2005. <>.

Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865. Library of Congress. April 2005. <>.


Collection Origin

The Civil War Photograph Collection’s provenance before it became the property of the Maryland Historical Society is unknown. It is possible that this collection is a donation of the Boyd Family. 

Scope and Content


The Civil War Photograph Collection contains images representing over 70 years of history, from 1861 to 1935. The bulk of the subjects, however are from the Civil War, and primarily date from 1861 to 1865. Since the majority of photographs appear to be the work of Mathew Brady, the type of photographic processes present in the collection are relatively easy to identify. The two main processes present are card photographs, which include carte de visites and cabinet cards, and albumen prints. The carte de visites and cabinet cards are mostly represented in portraits, although there are a few scenes of battlefields and military life. These photographic mounts range in size from 4" x 2 1/2" to 6 ½" x 4 1/4". The albumen prints make up the majority of the collection and range in size from 5" x 7" to 12" x 14".

Identification is both a strength and a weakness in this collection. For those photographs which were already identified on the reverse of the image, or which were able to be identified in the course of processing, there is often ample information. However, many of the photographs remain unidentified and largely undated, and so it is difficult to gauge what portion of the War is covered most comprehensively. It is possible, however, that with time and considerable knowledge, a greater number of the images can be identified, leading to a better understanding of the strength of representation present in this collection.

The general subjects for which there is the most material is clear, however. There are the greatest number of images of people, more specifically military personnel and government officials. This is most likely related to the presence of photographs from Mathew Brady’s album of distinguished Americans. In addition, there are a large number of images of military life, represented primarily by photographs of soldiers in camp. Virginia is heavily represented in the collection, especially Fredericksburg and various points along the James River.

While it is unclear how the Boyd Family is related to the Civil War photographs, there are several images present within that series that should not be overlooked, including some graphic images of Gettysburg. Additionally, the Boyds appear to have toured several Civil War sites in Virginia, well after the end of the war, and these photographs are a chronological representation of the landscape.

It should be noted that the series and subseries headings are based on the Library of Congress’s Thesaurus for Graphic Materials I: Subject Terms. The exception is Maritime Images, for which there was no equivalent in the TGMI, but is an institutionally accepted term.

Box 12 contains photographs that were added to collection in 2013, because of their similarities to the items in the collection. They are generally prints of photographs taken by Mathew Brady of Civil War scenes, and are grouped based on Library of Congress’s Thesaurus for Graphic Materials I: Subject Terms as with rest of the collection.


The Civil War Photograph Collection consists of eight major series: 1) Facilities; 2) Maritime Images; 3) Military Life; 4) Miscellaneous; 5) People; 6) Railroads; 7) War Damage, and 8) Boyd Family. Due to the volume of photographs present in this collection, and the large number of images currently unidentified, arrangement within the series is in no particular order, unless otherwise noted. Duplicates and similar scenes were grouped together when possible. Size: 4 ½ linear feet (12 boxes, 997 photographs)

Series List

Series I: Facilities

This series includes images of things that were built or established to serve a particular purpose. As such, the series has been broken down into the following subseries: Battlefields; Bridges; Forts and Fortifications; and Hospitals.

Subseries 1: Battlefields (Boxes 1, 7, 8, 12)

Included in this subseries are photographs of battle sites after fighting has occurred.

Subseries 2: Bridges (Boxes 1, 7)

This subseries is comprised of images of structures built over an obstacle, primarily rivers.

Subseries 3: Forts and Fortifications (Boxes 1, 7, 8, 12)

This subseries is made up of photographs of fortified facilities occupied by soldiers or permanent army posts. This includes images of weaponry/batteries, earthworks and defenses.

Subseries 4: Hospitals (Boxes 1, 4, 12)

Included in this subseries are photographs of facilities that were used as hospitals to treat wounded soldiers.


Series II: Maritime Images (Boxes 1, 7, 8)

This series is made up of images relating to the water, including boatyards, docks, ships and riverboats.

Subseries 1: Navy (Boxes 1, 8)

As a subseries of Maritime Images, Navy is primarily comprised of photographs of Union vessels and crew and mostly identified.

Series III: Military Life (Boxes 2, 4, 7, 8, 9, 12)

This series contains photographs documenting all aspects of military life, including training, reviews, and camp life. The series is very loosely arranged the following way: identified pictures of military leaders, such as Grant, in the field; semi-informal images of both groups of soldiers and individuals, primarily in camp and many of which show the soldiers enjoying leisure time; formal photos of large groups of soldiers, including regiment portraits; formal photographs of smaller groups of soldiers; general views of camps; and lastly troops in movement, engaging in fighting, or battery exercises (as it is often difficult to distinguish between the two, they will be kept together until properly identified).


Series IV: Miscellaneous (Boxes 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 12)

This series includes photographs of specific places, such as mills in Petersburg, Virginia, as well as unidentified city and natural landscapes.


Series V: People

As the largest of the series, this is comprised of both civilians and military officials, as well as a number of distinguished Americans from Brady’s Photographic Catalog. For ease of access, the series has been divided into the following eight subseries: Crowds; Government Officials; Men—Portraits; Military Personnel; Prisoners; War Casualties; and Women—Portraits.

Subseries 1: Crowds (Box 3)

This subseries includes photos of civilians in large numbers. The locations of the crowds, as well as the activity they are engaged in, are unidentified.

Subseries 2: Government Officials

This subseries contains images of senators, representatives, and other notable public officials of the United States and Europe, as well as several portraits of Confederate officials.

Subsubseries A: United States (Boxes 3, 4, 6)

Included in this series are such figures as Schuyler Colfax and Rutherford B. Hayes.

Subsubseries B: Europe (Boxes 3, 4)

Among the notable Europeans are Disraeli and Queen Victoria.

Subseries 3: Men—Portraits (Boxes 3, 5)

This subseries contains civilian male portraits, some of which are unidentified. It is possible that a number of these men could be government officials in some capacity. Notable images include John Brown, Edwin Booth, and John H. Surratt.

Subseries 4: Military Personnel

This series is made up of photographs of soldiers and officers who served in some capacity during the Civil War. It is broken down into Union and Confederate personnel.

Subsubseries A: Confederate (Box 5)

Photographs of primarily Confederate officers. All identified.

Subsubseries B: Union (Boxes 5, 6, 12)

Photographs of primarily Union officers, but also soldiers, as well.

Subsubseries C: Union, Not from Life (Boxes 5, 6)

Photographs of Union officers taken from engravings or other artwork.

Subseries 5: Prisoners (Box 3)

This subseries contains photographs of the exchange of Confederate prisoners, as well as Confederate prisoner camps.

Subseries 6: War Casualties (Boxes 3, 4, 7, 9)

This subseries is made up of photos that focus on images of dead soldiers. This includes images of soldiers being buried, as well as those casualties on the battlefield.

Subseries 7: Women – Portraits (Box 6)

This is a very small subseries that contains some portraits of notable women, including the wife of Stephen Douglas and the actress Maggie Mitchell.


Series VI: Railroads (Boxes 3, 7, 9, 12)

This series is made up of photographs of railroad stations, tracks and general views of trains.

Series VII: War Damage (Boxes 3, 7, 9, 12)

This series is comprised of photos showing damage or views of damage caused by fighting. This includes damage on an individual scale, such as burned-out buildings, as well as on a larger scale, such as damage towns and cities.


Series VIII: Boyd Family (Boxes 10, 11)

This series is comprised of the family photographs of the Boyd Family, whose descendants include Andrew and Allen. Included are photos from family vacations to Europe, as well as to various Civil War sights and monuments. There are also portraits of family, friends and school groups. This series is broken down into the following subseries: Civil War; Family; Homes; Military; Miscellaneous; Vacations.

Subseries 1: Civil War (Box 10)

This subseries includes several photographs of Civil War-era images that were found with the family’s photographs, and so were kept with them.

Subseries 2: Family (Box 10)

This subseries is further broken down and arranged by portraits of Children, Groups, Men and Women. Most images are unidentified, and so it is quite probable that many photographs are friends and acquaintances of the Boyds.

Subseries 3: Homes (Box 10)

This subseries is comprised of images of, presumably, one of the Boyds homes. It appears to be located in San Francisco.

Subseries 4: Military (Box 10)

This subseries is made up of military images relating to what seems to be the family’s time in military service.

Subseries 5: Miscellaneous (Box 11)

This subseries is primarily comprised various locations whose relation to the Boyds is unknown.

Subseries 6: Vacations (Box 11)

This subseries includes photographs from the Boyd family’s many travels to places including England, Egypt and France, as well as Civil War sites in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

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