Self-portrait, circa 1875
Mathew B. Brady (1822 - January 15, 1896), was one of the most
celebrated 19th century American photographers, best known for his
portraits of celebrities and the documentation of the American Civil
War. He is credited with being the father of photojournalism.
Brady was born in Warren County, New York, to Irish immigrant
parents, Andrew and Julia Brady. 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. He opened a studio in Washington, D.C. in 1849, where he
met Juliette Handy, whom he married in 1851. Brady's early images
were daguerreotypes, and he won many awards for his work; in the
1850s 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, Parisian photographer André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri
popularized the carte de visite and these small pictures (the size
of a visiting card) rapidly became a popular novelty as thousands of
these images were created and sold in the United States and
Europe.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 so close to the action that he only just
avoided being captured.
He employed Alexander Gardner, James Gardner, Timothy H. O'Sullivan,
William Pywell, George N. Barnard, Thomas C. Roche and seventeen
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. This may have been due, at least in part,
to the fact that Brady's eyesight began to deteriorate in the 1850s.
In October 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, a presentation totally new to America. This
was the first time that many Americans saw the realities of war in
photographs as distinct from previous "artists' impressions".
Following the conflict, a war-weary public lost interest in seeing
photos of the war, and Brady’s popularity and practice declined
During the war Brady spent over $100,000 to create over 10,000
plates. 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, loss of eyesight and
devastated by the death of his wife in 1887, he became very lonely.
Mathew Brady died penniless in the charity ward of Presbyterian
Hospital in New York City, at five o'clock, on January 15, 1896,
from complications following a streetcar accident.
Brady's funeral was financed by veterans of the 7th New York
Infantry. He was buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington,
Levin Corbin Handy, Brady's nephew by marriage, took over his
uncle's photography business after his death.
The thousands of photographs Mathew Brady took have become the most
important visual documentation of the Civil War, and have helped
historians better understand the era.
Brady photographed and made portraits of many senior Union officers
in the war, including Ulysses S. Grant, Nathaniel Banks, Don Carlos
Buell, Ambrose Burnside, Benjamin Butler, Joshua Chamberlain, George
Custer, David Farragut, John Gibbon, Winfield Hancock, Samuel P.
Heintzelman, Joseph Hooker, Oliver Howard, David Hunter, John A.
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 photographed P.G.T. Beauregard,
Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet, Lord Lyons, James Henry
Hammond, 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. His
Lincoln photographs have been used for the $5 dollar bill and the
After the Civil War, many of the plates Brady used became the glass
in greenhouses, and the pictures were lost forever.
Landing Supplies on the James River, c. 1861.
Albumen print. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Photograph of Abraham Lincoln, 1860 in New York City,
the day of Lincoln's Cooper Union speech.
William Sherman, 1865
Col Don Piatt
Mollie Blanche Rosavella
Officers, 71st Regiment, New York Infantry
George Armstrong Custer and Elizabeth Bacon Custer
George William Curtis
Thomas Theodore Crittenden
Mrs. F. S. Chanfrau
George Q. Cannon
Thomas Samuel Ashe
Civil War , 1865
General Ulysses S. Grant, Cold Harbor, Virginia, 1864
Grand review of the Union army in Washington, D.C., May 1865
Unidentified woman, Civil War period, About 1860-1865.