By the 1860s, photography was widely
available. Daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, iron tintypes and cartes de visite
(or card photographs) and stereographs were all available during this time
period. Tintypes were enormously popular during the Civil War because they
were durable. Ambrotypes were fragile and daguerreotypes were bulky, but
tintypes could be easily included in a letter and mailed home.
The U.S. government financed a portion of the
war using tax stamps. Legislation passed in 1864 required photographers to
place tax stamps on the backs of images they sold to customers and to
provide their initials and dates. Few photographers fully complied with
the latter requirements, but today you’ll still find many Civil War-era
photos with tax stamps on them.
During this time period, it was common for
soldiers to going off to war to have their pictures taken in uniform. Another
common practice was to take pictures of the deceased, especially babies
and children. A related practice was to include a photograph of a loved
one in a portrait after they died.
After a method was invented to print multiple
images of cartes de visite at a time, it became a common hobby to collect
images of family, friends and the famous in albums made for that purpose.
For about 15 cents, it was possible to purchase cartes de visite of
encampments at Bull Run or portraits of Lincoln and his general through
Godey’s Ladies Book.
Those who lost loved ones dressed in special
mourning clothing. Mourning jewelry was even made, sometimes with a photo
of the deceased person and/or a lock of hair. It is common to find
photographs of bereaved widows or daughters in mourning dress, holding a
carte de visite of the lost husband or father.
Military men on both the Confederate and Union
sides wore a variety of colors and designs, with each unit having its own
uniform. Often soldiers’ loyalties, ranks and units can be identified in
photographs by what they are wearing, including belt buckles, headgear and