Skip to main content

Boyd family collection of Civil War photographs

Identifier: PP 0230


This collection contains photographs pertaining to the American Civil War collected by the Boyd family, circa 1861-1935.


  • 1861-1935


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

The reproduction of materials in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine and satisfy copyright clearances or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections. For more information visit the MCHC’s Rights and Permissions page.

Biographical / Historical

The Civil War is often viewed as America’s bloodiest war. It lasted from 1861-1865 and tore the Union apart, frequently pitting brother against brother. The stirring, and sometimes graphic, images of the Civil War were captured, however by some of the leading photographers of the time, including the famous Mathew B. Brady.

Before the Civil War even began, Mathew Brady was a well-known photographer and the proprietor of a gallery in New York City. Brady was known for establishing the idea of creating a photographic catalog of the most distinguished Americans, and had amassed an impressive collection. In 1851, Brady met Alexander Gardner during a trip to Europe, and in 1856, the Scotsman and fellow photographer became business partners with Brady. Gardner was an admirable businessman, and in 1858, the team opened a second photographic studio and gallery in Washington, DC. This was a prime location for their business because as political tensions over slavery were mounting, Gardner and Brady made a point to photograph politicians from both sides of the debate for the collection of distinguished Americans, sensing that dissolution of the Union lay in the near future.

In 1861, Gardner brought the Carte DeVisite to their business, whose small size allowed for quick reproduction and portability, and was extremely popular. As Southern states began seceding and state militias were forming and converging on Washington, this new form of photography became even more popular and kept Brady and Gardner busy, with soldiers eager to pose.

As the war officially began, Brady and Gardner wanted to continue to photograph its images to document history. Brady secured approval for photographers to be in the field with the Union army, and Gardner struck a deal with photographic suppliers E. and H. T. Anthony to reproduce wartime images on a massive scale for sale to the public, while paying the Brady Gallery a percentage of the profits and crediting each image as a “Photo by Brady.” There were many technical limitations to shooting in the field including poor light, weather and the need for clean water. Additionally, any motion in the scene would create a blur on the negative, so all photographs were posed portraits or were of stationary objects or scenery. More importantly, the photographers were not allowed in the vicinity of the battle action, so most photographs of the war were deceptively peaceful, with many of them showing soldiers in camp.

In 1862, sometime after the Battle of Antietam, Gardner ended his partnership with Brady and opened his own photography studio and gallery in Washington, taking with him one of Brady’s most experienced field operators, Timothy O’Sullivan. Throughout the remainder of the war, Brady and Gardner would be in competition for the best photographs. With the departure of Gardner and O’Sullivan, Brady hired his nephew, Levin Corbin Handy, to assist him. Many photographs of the Civil War have been credited to Handy, however, this appears unlikely. At the time that Handy began working with Brady, he was approximately 12 years old. While later photographs after the war could very well be the work of Levin Handy, those credited to him during the Civil War years are likely photographs in which he assisted in the identification of the image.

By the end of the war, Brady was so in debt from financing his field operations that he was forced to sell his pictures. But he was unable to convince the government to buy the complete set of his pictures, and so in 1868, the Washington gallery was sold at auction to pay Brady’s debts and some of the negatives were dispersed. Finally, in 1875, Brady received $25,000 from Congress for title to his collection of negatives. The E. and H. T. Anthony Company, who had helped finance Brady’s wartime effort, continued to publish and sell Brady’s war images and acquired ownership of a portion of his negatives as payment for a debt. At the turn of the century, the Anthony Company appears to have sold Brady’s negatives to various proprietors, and consequently, numerous collectors have ended up with pieces of the Brady’s Civil War collection. It is entirely possible that through this means, the Boyd Family acquired a portion of Brady’s photographs.


6.55 Linear Feet (12 boxes)

Language of Materials



The Civil War Photograph Collection consists of eight major series: 1) Facilities; 2) Maritime Images; 3) Military Life; 4) Miscellaneous; 5) People; 6) Railroads; 7) War Damage, and 8) Boyd Family. Due to the volume of photographs present in this collection, and the large number of images currently unidentified, arrangement within the series is in no particular order, unless otherwise noted. Duplicates and similar scenes were grouped together when possible. Size: 4 ½ linear feet (12 boxes, 997 photographs)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the Boyd family.


Armstrong, Jennifer. Photo by Brady: A Picture of the Civil War. New York: Atheneum Books, 2005.

Miller, Francis Trevelyan, ed. The Photographic History of the Civil War. New York: Review of Reviews Co., 1911.

National Portrait Gallery, Mathew Brady Portraits. Smithsonian Institution. April 2005.

Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865. Library of Congress. April 2005.

Scope and Contents

The Civil War Photograph Collection contains images representing over 70 years of history, from 1861 to 1935. The bulk of the subjects, however are from the Civil War, and primarily date from 1861 to 1865. Since the majority of photographs appear to be the work of Mathew Brady, the type of photographic processes present in the collection are relatively easy to identify. The two main processes present are card photographs, which include carte de visites and cabinet cards, and albumen prints. The carte de visites and cabinet cards are mostly represented in portraits, although there are a few scenes of battlefields and military life. These photographic mounts range in size from 4" x 2 1/2" to 6 ½" x 4 1/4". The albumen prints make up the majority of the collection and range in size from 5" x 7" to 12" x 14".

Identification is both a strength and a weakness in this collection. For those photographs which were already identified on the reverse of the image, or which were able to be identified in the course of processing, there is often ample information. However, many of the photographs remain unidentified and largely undated, and so it is difficult to gauge what portion of the War is covered most comprehensively. It is possible, however, that with time and considerable knowledge, a greater number of the images can be identified, leading to a better understanding of the strength of representation present in this collection.

The general subjects for which there is the most material is clear, however. There are the greatest number of images of people, more specifically military personnel and government officials. This is most likely related to the presence of photographs from Mathew Brady’s album of distinguished Americans. In addition, there are a large number of images of military life, represented primarily by photographs of soldiers in camp. Virginia is heavily represented in the collection, especially Fredericksburg and various points along the James River.

While it is unclear how the Boyd Family is related to the Civil War photographs, there are several images present within that series that should not be overlooked, including some graphic images of Gettysburg. Additionally, the Boyds appear to have toured several Civil War sites in Virginia, well after the end of the war, and these photographs are a chronological representation of the landscape.

It should be noted that the series and subseries headings are based on the Library of Congress’s Thesaurus for Graphic Materials I: Subject Terms. The exception is Maritime Images, for which there was no equivalent in the TGMI, but is an institutionally accepted term.

Box 12 contains photographs that were added to collection in 2013, because of their similarities to the items in the collection. They are generally prints of photographs taken by Mathew Brady of Civil War scenes, and are grouped based on Library of Congress’s Thesaurus for Graphic Materials I: Subject Terms as with rest of the collection.

Guide to the Boyd family collection of Civil War photographs
Under Revision
Kelli Kanvin, James Risk, and Lara Westwood
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • 2020-02-21: Manually entered into ArchivesSpace by Mallory Herberger.

Repository Details

Part of the H. Furlong Baldwin Library Repository

H. Furlong Baldwin Library
Maryland Center for History and Culture
610 Park Avenue
Baltimore MD 21201 United States