the civil war was by far the deadliest war in united states history, resulting in over one million casualties. more than 5,000 battles took place between 1861-1865, across more than twenty states.

the war broke out twenty years after photography was introduced, so the concept of using photos to document events didn’t yet exist. these rare historical civil war photos were believed to be the first attempt at photojournalism.


in 1943 the library of congress purchased a collection of over 7,000 of these rare photographs for archival purposes, many of which recently became digitally available on their website. this is a collection of some of our favorites from the archive.

the civil war was by far the deadliest war in united states history, resulting in over one million casualties. more than 5,000 battles took place between 1861-1865, across more than twenty states.

the war broke out twenty years after photography was introduced, so the concept of using photos to document events didn’t yet exist. these rare historical civil war photos were believed to be the first attempt at photojournalism.


in 1943 the library of congress purchased a collection of over 7,000 of these rare photographs for archival purposes, many of which recently became digitally available on their website. this is a collection of some of our favorites from the archive.

ruins of haxall’s mills

this eerie photo reveals the remains of richmond, virginia after the confederate army destroyed the area by setting fires.

these specific buildings were haxall’s mills, which was at the time one of the largest flour mills in the world. bolling w. haxall, who owned the mill, was one of richmond’s wealthiest businessmen prior to the civil war.


sudley springs

the guardian photographer david levene recently recreated some civil war images from the exact same vantage point. the below two pictures show a comparison of sudley springs ford in virginia, during the war and in modern day.

sudley springs was the location of the first major land battle during the civil war.


lincoln visiting antietam

this is a rare sighting of president abraham lincoln visiting a battlefield at antietam, maryland.

antietam was one of the most important battles in the civil war, as it stopped the northern virginia confederate army from succeeding in their first invasion into the north. this battle also led to lincoln’s writing the first version of the emancipation proclamation.


antietam dunker church

the battle of antietam was fought around the dunker church near sharpsburg, maryland. it was the first major battle to take place within union territory, and remains the bloodiest one-day battle in united states history. the original church was destroyed in a storm but rebuilt in 1962 for the 100th anniversary of the battle.



council of war

this photos from ringgold, georgia shows a council of war led by general george thomas.

these councils would take place in the middle of battles in order to decide on the best course of action. while the ultimate decisions would be made by the commanding officers, the councils would end in a vote by the subordinates that would help advise the commander.


ulysses s. grant

ulysses s. grant is one of the most well-known figures from the civil war. this photo shows him standing in front of a tent in cold harbor, virginia in june, 1864.

one interesting and little-known fact is that he was actually born hiram ulysses grant, and only became known as ulysses s. grant because of a clerical error. after being nominated to the united states military academy at west point, his name was accidentally listed as ulysses s. grant.


foreign diplomats

this very peculiar image shows a group of diplomats standing beside a waterfall in new york state, 1863.

not all of the people are identified but they are mostly diplomats from many different countries. in addition to u.s. secratary of state william h. seward, there are also foreign ministers from sweden, italy, nicaragua, france, great britain, and russia.


railroad mortar

this image displays one of the many terrifying weapons used during the civil war: a 13-inch mortar know as “dictator.” this particular photo was taken in petersburg, virginia in 1864.

the dictator weighed a massive 17,120 pounds. in order to make it mobile it was mounted onto a flatcar so that it can be transported via the petersburg railroad. according to historical reports, the 218 pound mortar shell was able to be launched over 2.5 miles.


fort sumter

the attack on fort sumpter, south carolina by the confederate army was the catalyst that started the civil war. after close to two full days of fire exchange, the us general and more than 80 soldiers residing in fort sumter finally surrendered to the confederates. this picture is believed to have been taken soon after the surrender.


here is a picture of fort sumter in modern day, which is now open to the public as a national monument:


alexandria slave auction house

at the time of the civil war, new orleans was the largest slave center in the united states but alexandria, virginia was a close second.

the auction house shown below was located on duke street in alexandria. the building is now used for the freedom house museum, which you can see in the second picture.


brompton oak

this plantation in brompton was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers. it was set up following a deadly battle in spotsylvania, fredericksburg. there are several historical buildings still standing in the area, and many still have bullet holes from the battles that took place in the field.


devil’s den

many fallen soldiers are seen in the below civil war photo at devil’s den. the picture was taken after what is probably the most widely known battle — the battle of gettysburg — in gettysburg, pennsylvania. now the area is open to tourism and it is a very popular spot to hike around.


evergreen cemetery

the evergreen cemetery is located within gettysburg, pennsylvania. it was built less than ten years before the battle took place.

this cemetery is also famous for being visible in pictures of lincoln’s gettysburg address which took place on the grounds.

as you can see in the below photo depicting present day, the arched building has been extremely well preserved and an extended building was added.


arlington house

prior to the civil war, the arlington house was home to confederate general robert e lee. it is now used as a permanent memorial to him. this amazing historical photo shows a mixture of military personnel and civilians on the steps of the house.

here you can see a modern picture showing a class of students recreating the scene.

united states capitol

the us capitol’s unique shape is recognizable to just about everyone these days, and the iron dome was built during the civil war. the above photo shows the execution of henry wirz, a confederate captain. the present day picture below shows the capitol under restoration.


ford’s theater

the president’s box in ford’s theater looks eerily unchanged since the assassination of president lincoln. the theater was closed for over 100 years following the assassination until it was reopened in the 1960s.



cumberland landing

the below photo shows an encampment in cumberland landing, virginia. the union moved one of its largest armies to this area in order to launch an offensive attack on the confederate capital located in richmond. many acres of land were used in order to temporarily house thousands of soldiers in tents.


here is an image showing cumberland landing in present day. it is now a stunningly beautiful park.


mary todd lincoln

mary todd lincoln was the wife of president abraham lincoln. strangely, before marrying abraham lincoln, mary todd was romantically involved with lincoln’s political opponent, stephen a. douglas.

mary todd’s life was filled with many hardships. in addition to being with abraham lincoln on the night he was assassinated, she also outlived three out of four of her sons. she was even temporarily institutionalized a decade after lincoln’s murder for psychiatric issues.


26th u.s. colored infantry

this is the 26th u.s. colored volunteer infantry, parading through camp william penn in pennsylvania, 1865.

camp william penn was originally supposed to be named after president lincoln’s secretary of war, edwin m. stanton. it is one of eight camps in the north that were designated to training black troops. while the others had a mix of black and white volunteers, camp william penn was the only camp that exclusively trained black troops.

the troops training at camp william penn were all volunteers. there were a total of around 11,000 troops that were trained here since it officially opened in 1963.


log hut

a group of soldiers from the north relaxing in front of a log hut in 1864. this hut in particular was used as a kitchen, and the bearded man in the center was the company’s cook. these small huts and cabins were set up as a temporary community for troops that were awaiting orders.


refugeee family

during the american civil war, there were over 200,000 people in the south who had to flee their homes, with the largest group coming from virginia. this image shows one refugee family being loaded onto a cart and leaving their home.

many southerners fled in order to cross over to union territory and fight with the north. others were confederates who were against the union but did not join the war efforts.


norfolk navy yard

the norfolk navy yard in virginia was occupied by the confederates until may, 1862 when they were driven from the city by the union. the location was very strategic, so confederate troops destroyed as much as they could before leaving. the union was able to rebuild much of the area and continue using it.

this photo was captured two years after the confederate troops abandoned their post.


u.s.s. kearsarge officers

the image shows captain john a. winslow and his fellow officers aboard the u.s.s. kearsarge in 1864. the photo was taken after a huge win for the union officers, sinking the opposing c.s.s. alabama during the battle of cherbourg.

the ship was named after mount kearsarge in new hampshire.