Photo Detective: The Unknown Soldier
2/18/2011
Men flocked to studios -- makeshift or established -- to pose in their new uniforms or before a major battle, then proudly sent the images home to relatives anxious for news.
The Civil War did more than divide a nation -- it made photographs an integral part of our ancestors' lives. William Darrah's Cartes de Visite in Nineteenth-Century Photography (self-published) claims every Civil War soldier had at least one portrait taken -- an exaggeration, perhaps, but photography did become a craze. Thousands of photographers sought customers in hometowns and encampments. Men flocked to studios -- makeshift or established -- to pose in their new uniforms or before a major battle, then proudly sent the images home to relatives anxious for news. Today, some of these portraits are cherished in family collections.

Ambrotypes, paper photographs and tintypes were the images of choice during the war. The picture here is an ambrotype, which is a piece of glass coated with photo chemicals that created a "negative" image, then backed with a darker material to make it appear "positive."

Ambrotypes (and some tintypes) often were placed in velvet-lined cases with the image, a mat, a glass covering and a strip of brass that held it all together.