“Experience Civil War Photography: From the Home Front to the Battlefront”

A new exhibition marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War by showing how advancements in photography brought the conflict close to home for many Americans—then and now.  “Experience Civil War Photography: From the Home Front to the Battlefront” will be on display at the Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall through Aug. 1, 2013.

During the Civil War, the Castle served was home to Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry and his family, as well as serving as an Institution for scholarship and collecting. The “From the Home Front to the Battlefront”  displays excerpts from the diary of Joseph Henry’s daughter, Mary. Mary Henry recorded the comings and goings of soldiers and the use of the Castle’s towers to observe advancing soldiers and the state of Washington, D.C.,  after Lincoln’s assassination.

The exhibit features a range of Civil War-era photographic materials from Smithsonian collections, including cameras, stereoviewers, albums and portraits, alongside photographs of soldiers and battlefields. Stereoviews, a form of 3-D photography that blossomed during the Civil War era, daguerreotypes, tintypes and ambrotypes—all emerging types of photography—are highlighted in the exhibit to explore the ways photography was used to depict the war, prompt discussion and retain memories. Highlights include an ambrotype portrait of an African American washerwoman, carte-de-visite (a type of small photo) album of Civil War generals, an 11-by-4-inch-view camera and equipment and an examination of the emergence of battlefield photography and photojournalism. Also featured in the exhibition are the Smithsonian’s first African American employee, Solomon Brown (1829-1906), and the Castle lecture hall that was a venue for a series of abolitionist speakers; it was destroyed by fire in 1865.

The exhibition also features two short video presentations: a History Channel documentary on field photography and a production  by the Center for Civil War Photography for the Civil War Trust that allows visitors to step back in time by experiencing the photos in 3-D.

Click on any image to view a photo gallery from the exhibition.


Posted: 6 August 2012
About the Author:

A public affairs assistant in the Office of Communications and External Affairs, Emily Grebenstein is a recent graduate of The George Washington University with a degree in art history and a concentration in Italian. Emily is originally from Hingham, Mass.