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Abstract

This paper will argue that photography was a key factor in determining the outcome of the American Civil War. Without it, the North would not have been able to conduct a total war as efficiently as it did. At the beginning of the war, battlefield photographs supported the public’s view of war as glorious, but by the Battle of Antietam in 1862, some photographers had begun capturing the brutal realities of war. This shift reflected and shaped the public’s consciousness with regard to the ever-changing realities of warfare. The Confederacy lacked the photographic materials to create similar depictions, and new technologies enhanced the power of Union photographs and extended their dissemination, furthering their impact on the public’s consciousness. Similarly, as the war continued, photographers began depicting escaped slaves and African Americans differently, transitioning from views of former slaves as destitute escapees to potential soldiers, fighting for the Union. This shift, alongside the Emancipation Proclamation, helped justify brutal campaigns that sought to end the war as quickly as possible. In sum, photography was integral in shaping public opinion, and the North benefited from it more than the South did, making it a key factor in the Union’s victory.

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