Civil War Photography Books—A Question

Matthew Brady’s “What is it” wagon

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words are in a book about pictures?

We’ll let you mull that one over a little bit, but our real purpose for posting this afternoon is to pass along a question from reader Curtis Thomasco. Mr. Thomasco emailed us with a question about Civil War photography books–a subject our readership is sure to have some excellent insights about. Mr. Thomasco asks: 

I was curious to everyone’s opinion on what is the best or “most definitive” comprehensive, photographic book on the Civil War. I am thinking it might be Miller’s Photo Essay book. However was wondering what your staff’s opinion is.

What do you think?

8 Responses to Civil War Photography Books—A Question

  1. For me, there probably is no “best.” It depends on what you do with the information inside. If I were to pick one as a gift for a person who has some interest in the Civil War, it would be Matthew Brady’s Civil War Journal. But there is so much more. William Frassinito’s work is valuable when comparing battle field perspectives, Alexander Gardner’s Sketchbook of the Civil War is another for old photographs.Lately, colorization has been a popular addition to Civil War photography. I would never use a colorized book as my only source, but colorized images are amazing, and may be one way to get younger people interested in studying the war. I guess I am saying that there is no real definitive set of images, but there are excellent ones out there. One of the most interesting is the Time-Life edition done by Bell Wiley and William C. Davis: A Photographic History of the Civil War. As I was checking titles for this reply I found it, remembered how delightful the images are–probably because both authors enjoy a little whimsy with their history and–here it comes–it can be purchased for $5.00 used on amazon. Have fun looking at the options out there–there are many.

  2. Miller’s 10 volume work is fascinating with its strong general topics. However, I believe the best is Civil War: A Complete Photographic History. It is a complete composite of the 6 volume The Image of War series. The 4000 photographs are presented chronologically & supported by the stimulating narrative of dozens of top historians.

  3. One of my favorites is Wm. Frassanito’s ” Antietam, The Photographc History “….the author, a I believe a former U.S. Army intelligence officer…..uses the well known ” Brady ” photographs and compares them with the modern landscape……his text on Stark’s Brigade of dead Louisiana Tigers at the rail fence is chilling….yet full of the pathos of battle!

  4. I have Frassinito’s books, Gardner and Brady and love looking through them. There is not just one book. I realized today as I was cataloging books at the Drum Barracks there is one more book I must have Timothy O Sullivan. I was sharing it with one of the young staff members. The series of pictures of Grant , Meade and their officers outdid idle the church sitting on the pews is still amazing every time I look at them. The young man seeing them for the first. Time was blown away. He loved that they are not posed.

  5. I have all of Mr. Frassanito’s books, The Photographic History, and The Image of War, but would also add Zeller’s “The Blue & Gray in Black & White” to that list.

    Joel Manuel
    Baton Rouge LA

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