Photos and Drawings… the gory details

Photos and Drawings… the gory details

Photographers following the troops. -Library of Congress

The Civil War was the first war to be photo-documented, leaving us with a vast collection of graphic imagery of the horrors of warfare. The best-known photographer of the war was Mathew Brady, but there were many others, including Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan. Photographers only documented the aftermath of battle since cameras in that era required 4-second exposures, making it impossible to capture the action clearly. Portraits of soldiers sent home as keepsakes for families were also very popular. A photographer’s wagon, complete with a darkroom, was a common sight following the troops.

Should I, Or Shouldn’t I?
The Civil War was a grotesque slaughter of human beings, plain and simple, Americans killing Americans. The scale of death and suffering is unmatched in our history. In writing Hattie’s War, I knew I had to address this reality because, in my mind, Hattie would want to know details of her father’s service and death.  A story based on the Civil War would be incomplete without addressing the carnage.

I was uncertain, however, about how far I could go with the gory details in a book geared toward a young audience. After reading two YA books set in the Civil War: Soldier’s Heart by Gary Paulsen and Red Moon at Sharpsburg by Rosemary Wells, it was clear that a truthful account of the horrors of war is entirely appropriate in this genre.

Sketch Artists In The Field
The war was also documented by artists who drew what they saw on the battlefield.  Albert Waud and Edwin Forbes, best-known of the on-the-ground artists, were able to get close to the action and created the only visual record of what happened. 

Illustrator Frank Leslie’s engravings are also considered significant. Leslie and others took the battlefield artist’s sketches and made engravings that made it possible to print them in newspapers and magazines of the day, like Harper’s Weekly. Many of Leslie’s illustrations are available at the University of South Florida ClipArt ETC website. The book and this section of the website use many of his illustrations in the chapter headers.

Library of Congress
The Library of Congress (LOC) holds just about everything one can possibly want about the Civil War, photographs and drawings make up a significant portion of the collection, all in the Public Domain, free of copyright. 

I am indebted to these dedicated artists who, like their modern counterparts, risked their lives to capture the realities of war, leaving a legacy that continues to inform and inspire more than 150 years later.

What I learned

  • thousands of photographs and sketches were made during the war. All are in the public domain.
  • Mathew Brady was the most well-known photographer of the war, but there were many others who worked with/for him.
  • Illustrators like Frank Leslie published detailed engravings of battle.  All are in the public domain.
  • graphic details about the war are appropriate for the middle-grade genre

In the story

Chapter #11 That’s My Daddy

The photograph of the three Howell brothers

October 10, 1878
Dear Miss Howell,
Mr. Byron Howell asked me to send this photograph to you. It was taken in 1862 while your uncle and his two brothers were stationed in the Washington, DC, area. I made hundreds of portraits of soldiers during the war, so it took me some time to locate this marvelous photograph after Mr. Howell contacted me. I understand that the soldier standing in the center is your father, Private Hannibal Howell. Please accept my sincerest condolences on your father’s death. I was at Gettysburg taking photographs in the days following the fighting. I shall never forget the bravery and heroism I witnessed there. Your father was among many heroes who laid down their lives for this great country. It is my honor and privilege to give the photo to you.

Mathew Brady
P.S. Your uncle tells me you are quite an artist. I would be grateful if you’d send me one of your drawings. You may send it postage collect.

Chapter heading images
Every chapter has a heading graphic, most use engravings made by Frank Leslie and his collaborators.

Sketches attributed to Hattie and Hannibal

Sketches made by Alfred Waud and Edwin Forbes were edited to look like sketches made by Hattie and her father.

Browse Frank Leslie’s Illustrated History of the Civil War

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