Virginia at War: Part IV

Panoramas of War
Roche Cannons Landscape
T.C. Roche made this haunting and well-composed panorama of captured Confederate guns at the wharf in Richmond.

Technology in Virginia

The decades prior to the Civil War had seen unprecedented advances in technology.  Railroads crisscrossed the nation, news was sent by telegraph and factories produced goods in hours that had previously taken weeks.  The necessities of war spurred a whole wave of technological advances -- new equipment, new weaponry, new ships.  Both sides were determined to use technological advances to gain an advantage on Virginia's battlefields.

Thaddeus S. C. Lowe organized the Union Army Balloon Corps in 1861, representing the first use of military aviation in American History. Lowe himself (with a hand from the balloon at right) supervised the inflation of one of his balloons near Gaines' Mill.


The staggering number of Civil War deaths changed the funerary arts forever. New embalming techniques allowed soldiers who died in Virginia to be embalmed at the front, shipped north and buried by their families. Dr. Bunnell advertised his operation on the Bermuda Hundred front, as “free from odor and infection.”


Communications from the front could be made almost instantly using the new science of telegraphy. Commanders could wire and receive reports across a wide front in a matter of minutes. This Union Army Telegraph Corps battery wagon was stationed near Petersburg.


Armies North and South made use of advances in artillery technologies. In the North, better casing techniques resulted in larger and much more powerful guns such as thus fifteen-inch Columbiad, nicknamed the ‘Lincoln Gun,’ which could use a 50-lb load of powder to hurl a 315 shell three miles.


Because a "picture is worth a thousand words," the work of Civil War photographers in Virginia helps us to connect with our past.  The war takes on an immediacy and vibrancy that cannot be readily conjured for previous eras.  The men who made these photographs remain somewhat mysterious -- none wrote memoirs and few primary sources exist, other than the photos themselves.  Let us examine the "big four" of photography in Virginia.

Mathew Brady is the most well-known Civil War Photographer, although he was rarely behind the camera himself. Unfortunately for Brady, Demand for war photographs never met his expectations and he sank into poverty. Brady often appeared in his own photographs such as here, in his straw hat.


Alexander Gardner was a former Brady gallery manager who broke from his employer in 1863 and took many of Brady's best photographers with him -- Timothy O'Sullivan, James F. Gibson, David Knox, William Frank Browne and John Reekie. For the remainder of the war, he and Brady were competitors.


T. C. Roche, employed by the E. & H. T. Anthony Company, took many of the war's most famous photographs. Roche was not given credit for his work at the time, and his name remains obscure today. In this image detail, Roche stands outside his winter quarters near Chaffin's farm.


Capt. A. J. Russell (posing under tent) was the government's only official Civil War photographer. He took images meant for official consumption, not popular release, making his images very specific in scope. Most of his work was not properly attributed and has fallen into the so-called “Brady Collection” at the National Archives.

Panoramas of War

Photographers usually operated in the rear of the advancing armies, often during months of relative inactivity.  With so much time and so many rich subjects, it was inevitable that the photographers would take panoramic photographs.  For various reasons these historic images never sold well and were consequently soon forgotten.  Some of these valuable works are displayed here, in their entirety, for the first time since the Civil War.

Roche Cannons Landscape
T.C. Roche made this haunting and well-composed panorama of captured Confederate guns at the wharf in Richmond.


As the Union Army advanced toward Cold Harbor, one of Brady's cameramen made this panorama of the Union suppply base at White House Landing on the Pamunkey River.

Learn More About Virgina at War: Before the War Confederates Ascendant | In the Trenches