The Center for Civil War Photography



17 January 2014

“Nearly every Civil War soldier had his photograph taken by one of the more than 5,000 American photographers active at the time.” Really?  Five thousand photographers?  Nearly every soldier?  The Gettysburg-based Center for Civil War Photography is convinced—and determined, as well, to make those photographs easily available to all of us.


The Center’s purpose is educational. Its mission [we quote]:

  • to educate the public about Civil War photography, its role in the conflict, and its rich variety of forms and formats;
  • to digitally secure original images and preserve vintage prints;
  • to enhance the accessibility of photographs to the public; and
  • to present interpretive programs that use stereoscopic and standard images to their fullest potential.

Privately launched in 2001, the non-profit center is fairly new by historical standards, but it’s already a valuable resource for nineteenth-century America. At Gibson's Gallery in Gettysburg, it offers a first-hand immersion into a working Civil War photography studio, where visitors can “dress in period clothing for a Gibson portrait on glass using the wet-plate collodion method of the mid-19th century.”  Numerous other exhibits are available in museums North and South. Slides shows and lesson plans have been developed for teachers and school groups. Gorgeously illustrated publications tell the stories of Antietam, Charleston, Gettysburg, Manassas, the western front, and the development of the National Military Parks.

Its long-term goal is much more ambitious: "the compilation, in a digital format, of every Civil War photograph ever taken,” available online as the Digital Civil War Photograph Archive. In the meanwhile, the CCWP president, Bob Zeller, also offers wise words of advice:

“Thousands of Civil War photographs are available online for free. Many of these are scanned from the original glass plate negatives at ultra-high resolution. All Civil War photographs are now in the public domain, and reproductions can be used in any fashion by anyone. Users are strongly encouraged, however, to properly credit their sources for photographs and to abide by the rules and requirements of institutions that are providing images.

“In many cases, Civil War images that are being sold online by stock photo companies, often at exorbitant prices, are available for free from the Library of Congress, the National Archives, or other sites."

Among the online resources already offered by the Center are these four gems: