The Civil War was a defining moment in American history, testing the strength of a young nation as it nearly split apart. It also occurred during the early days of photography, some twenty years after the introduction of the field. The idea of using photos to chronicle major events, like a war, was still relatively new and many of the photos taken of Civil War battlefields and soldiers can be seen as some of the first attempts at photojournalism. Seeing these pictures of the Civil War provides a whole different perspective than a history book, giving us a way to see how things really were then and appreciate how long we’ve come since.
Click through to see some humbling moments from our nation’s greatest internal conflict — Number 3, which showcases the dead on the field of Gettysburg, is particularly sobering.
14. Amputation at Gettysburg
Given that it was the most costly battle in U.S. history, with approximately 50,000 casualties on both sides, it’s no surprise that there would have been a lot of amputations happening at Gettysburg. Given the generally unclean operating conditions that were present in most field hospitals, an amputation was often the least of the worries of a soldier as various diseases and infections had a good chance of killing them even after they’d started to heal.
13. Battle Of Antietam
The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest single-day battle in U.S. history, fought near a church near Sharpsburg, Maryland. That one day of fighting would leave over 22,000 soldiers dead, injured, or missing and prove enough of a victory that Lincoln would feel confident enough to make the Emancipation Proclamation, changing the course of the war.
12. Devil’s Den
This photo was taken at Devil’s Den, a site of fighting during the Battle of Gettysburg. Despite the bloody history that the site is best known for, the area is now a popular spot to hike around. From peaceful town to bloody battle site to hiking destination all in 150 years.
11. Ford’s Theater
Ford’s Theater would go down in history as the site of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination by John Wilkes Booth during the final days of the Civil War. The theater would close down for 100 years before reopening in the 1960s. Once it reopened, the interior was eerily well-preserved throughout the years.
10. Cumberland Landing
This picture was taken in Cumberland Landing, Virginia, after the Union moved a huge number of troops into the area to launch an attack on the Confederate capitol of Richmond. Soldiers set up temporary housing across numerous acres of land. Life in the camps was often miserable, with the elements wreaking havoc on the soldiers.