Mathew Brady

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Mathew B. Brady (ca. 1823January 15, 1896) was a famous photographer of the American Civil War.

Mathew Brady
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Mathew Brady

Brady was born in Warren County, New York, as the son of Irish immigrants. He moved to New York City at the age of 17. By 1844, he had his own photography studio in New York, and by 1845, Brady began to exhibit his portraits of famous Americans. Brady's early images were daguerreotypes and he won many awards for his work; in the 1850's ambrotype photography became popular, which gave way to the albumen print, a paper photograph produced from large glass negatives most commonly used in the American Civil War photography. In 1859, Paris photographer A. A. Disderi introduced cartes de visite and these small pictures (the size of a visiting card) rapidly became a popular novelty with millions of these images sold in the United States.

Brady's efforts to document the Civil War on a grand scale by bringing his photographic studio right onto the battlefields earned Brady his place in history. Despite the obvious dangers, financial risk, and discouragement of his friends he is later quoted as saying "I had to go. A spirit in my feet said 'Go,' and I went." His first popular photographs of the conflict were at the First Battle of Bull Run, in which he got close enough to the action that he was almost captured.

He employed Alexander Gardner, James Gardner, Timothy O'Sullivan, William Pywell, George Barnard, and eighteen other men, each of whom were given a traveling darkroom, to go out and photograph scenes from the Civil War. Brady generally stayed in Washington, D.C., organizing his assistants and rarely visited battlefields personally. A notable exception was the Second Battle of Bull Run in 1862, where his photos of retreating Union soldiers created a sensation.

In 1862, Brady presented an exhibition of photographs from the Battle of Antietam in his New York gallery entitled, "The Dead of Antietam." Many of the images in this presentation were graphic photographs of corpses, making the presentation totally new to America. No one had seen anything like this before.

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Matthew-brady.jpg
Mathew Brady as an old man, photo taken shortly before his death.

Brady photographed portraits of many generals in the war, such as Nathaniel Banks, Don Carlos Buell, Ambrose Burnside, Benjamin Butler, George Custer, David Farragut, John Gibbon, Winfield Hancock, Samuel P. Heintzelman, Joseph Hooker, Oliver Howard, David Hunter, John Logan, Irvin McDowell, George McClellan, James McPherson, George Meade, David Dixon Porter, William Rosecrans, John Schofield, William Sherman, Daniel Sickles, Henry Warner Slocum, George Stoneman, Edwin V. Sumner, George Thomas, Emory Upton, James Wadsworth, and Lew Wallace. On the Confederate side, Brady managed to photograph P.G.T. Beauregard, Stonewall Jackson, and Robert E. Lee. (Lee's first session with Brady was in 1845 as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, his final after the war in Richmond, Virginia.) Brady also photographed Abraham Lincoln on many occasions.

During the war Brady spent over $100,000 to create 10,000 prints. He expected the U.S. government to buy the photographs when the war ended, but when the government refused to do so he was forced to sell his New York City studio and go into bankruptcy. Congress granted Brady $25,000 in 1875, but he remained deeply in debt. Depressed by his financial situation, Brady became an alcoholic and died penniless in the charity ward of Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, from complications following a streetcar accident. His funeral was financed by veterans of the 7th New York Infantry and he is buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington.

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