Matthew Brady's Photographs of Union Generals
By assembling teams of photographers and securing permission for them to accompany Union forces in the field, Mathew Brady produced an extraordinary visual record of the Civil War. But there was more to his efforts during the war: his New York and Washington galleries did a brisk business creating studio portraits of the ever-changing roster of Union generals.
When the war began, Brady was already one of America’s foremost portrait photographers. His reputation for excellence made his galleries an obvious destination for Union officers assuming a new command or receiving a promotion. Although some posed for large-format portraits, the burgeoning popularity of inexpensive, calling card-size photographs known as cartes de visite made this the format of choice for countless generals. In addition to furnishing cartes de visite for the subject’s personal use, Brady marketed them to a public eager for pictures of the men it hoped would lead the Union to victory. As the fortunes of individual generals rose and fell, new portraits were produced and dutifully added to the albums that were a fixture in many American parlors.
The photographs exhibited here are modern prints made from Brady carte-de-visite negatives in the National Portrait Gallery’s Frederick Hill Meserve Collection. The absence of generals such as Henry W. Halleck, George G. Meade, John Pope, and George H. Thomas reflects the fact that Brady's negatives of these men are not present in this collection.