Lens of War

Exploring Iconic Photographs of the Civil War

Title Details

Pages: 272

Illustrations: 31 b&w photos

Trim size: 9.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 04/15/2015

ISBN: 9-780-8203-4810-0

List Price: $37.95

Subsidies and Partnerships

Published with the generous support of Friends Fund

Lens of War

Exploring Iconic Photographs of the Civil War

Historians reflect on photographs from the Civil War

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  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Contributors

Lens of War grew out of an invitation to leading historians of the Civil War to select and reflect upon a single photograph. Each could choose any image and interpret it in personal and scholarly terms. The result is a remarkable set of essays by twenty-seven scholars whose numerous volumes on the Civil War have explored military, cultural, political, African American, women’s, and environmental history.

The essays describe a wide array of photographs and present an eclectic approach to the assignment, organized by topic: Leaders, Soldiers, Civilians, Victims, and Places. Readers will rediscover familiar photographs and figures examined in unfamiliar ways, as well as discover little-known photographs that afford intriguing perspectives. All the images are reproduced with exquisite care. Readers fascinated by the Civil War will want this unique book on their shelves, and lovers of photography will value the images and the creative, evocative reflections offered in these essays.

While many of the well-chosen images will be recognizable to even the casual Civil War scholar, there are a few obscure images presented as well. It is also amazing to see how much information can be divulged from some seemingly simple images such as the dead horse of a general.

—Tom Elmore, Blue & Gray Magazine

Lens of War isn’t intended for coffee tables. . . . It is not so much a collection of Civil War photographs as a book about the insight photography brings to our understanding of the war. . . . The photographs in Lens of War are doorways to lives long past; the words walk us through their worlds.

—Allen Barra, America's Civil War Magazine

A brilliant starting point for truly understanding the Civil War.

—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

This collection of images, many of them familiar to Civil War enthusiasts,were selected to serve as a jumping-off point for the essays of twenty-seven scholars on topics suggested by the photos. The photos, topics, and essays are an eclectic mix. By themselves, many of the photos would seem unremarkable, but the often brilliantly written essays compel the reader to view the photos with a fresh perspective. . . . Together, the photos and essays make a superb addition to Civil War collections.


Lens of War is refreshingly episodic and individualized, with the best essays being deeply personal, Montaignean explorations of why the war still matters to individuals today.

—Kenyon Gradert, Los Angeles Review of Books

Lens of War meets the promise of the simple observation that prompted its creation. Additionally, this book provides an excellent analysis of representative images. Perhaps most importantly however, these timeless photographs are the central focus of this volume—a rare event among academics.

—Military Images magazine

The UnCivil Wars series . . . describes itself as 'dedicated to new ways of seeing and telling the American Civil War.' Lens of War actually manages to tell the war by seeing it. Moreover, it illuminates not only how photographs shape our understandings and memories of the war, but also how we teach it, and how images—even in black and white—will always hold a special power the written world alone simply cannot supply. With all of this in mind, the book is highly recommended to historians of photography and visual culture (it even includes a very helpful resource on Civil War photographic histories), but for historians of the Civil War it is—without question—a must read.

—Matthew C. Hulbert, Civil War Monitor

This fascinating volume . . . offers powerful insights into history and historians. . . . Lens of War is a sometimes moving and always enjoyable book to read.

—Lawrence Kreiser Jr., The Journal of Southern History

This book changes the way we see the American Civil War. By looking intently at photographs - some familiar and some rarely seen - these expert interpreters reveal aspects of the war visible in no other way. The elegant essays, like the images they examine, are windows into fascinating lives.

—Edward L. Ayers, President, University of Richmond

The pioneering cameramen of the Civil War wrought shocking images that stir and haunt us still. Lens of War is likewise groundbreaking, an album of essays that mines 1860s photographs for new insight into the war and its memory. Images I’ve stared at since boyhood—and others I’d never seen—come into fresh focus through the scholarly yet personal gaze of leading historians. This revelatory and highly readable book will captivate new and longtime students of the Civil War alike.

—Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic and Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War

We view Alexander Gardner’s famous 1865 close-up portrait of Lincoln, Mathew Brady’s portrait of Ulysses S. Grant in 1864 after the Battle of Cold Harbor, Robert E. Lee on his horse Traveler, and Jeb Stuart in Confederate finery; in the accompanying essays we witness the rapture that these figures continue to cultivate in contemporary viewers. . . . Reading such entries, one is constantly reminded of the Roland Barthes’s claim that photographs can carry a punctum, the tiny, almost-incidental details within pictures that rivet the gaze and become deeply mesmerizing and achingly personal.

—Anthony W. Lee, The Journal of American History

James Robertson

Thavolia Glymph

Daniel E. Sutherland

Kathryn "KT" J. Shively

Stephen Cushman

Elizabeth R. Varon

Judith A. Giesberg

James Marten

T. Michael Parrish

William Blair

Joseph Glatthaar

Jane E. Schultz

Stephen Berry

Steven E. Woodworth

Caroline E. Janney

Joan Waugh

Earl Hess

Aaron Sheehan-Dean

Megan Kate Nelson

Susan Eva O'Donovan

Emory Thomas

Harold Holzer

Brooks D. Simpson

Ethan S. Rafuse

Carol Reardon

About the Author/Editor

J. Matthew Gallman (Editor)
J. MATTHEW GALLMAN is a professor of history at the University of Florida and author of Mastering Wartime: A Social History of Philadelphia during the Civil War, America’s Joan of Arc: The Life of Anna Elizabeth Dickinson, and the forthcoming Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front.

Gary W. Gallagher (Editor)
GARY W. GALLAGHER is the John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War emeritus at the University of Virginia. He has written or edited numerous books on the Civil War, including Becoming Confederates: Paths to a New National Loyalty and Lens of War: Exploring Iconic Photographs of the Civil War, coedited with J. Matthew Gallman (both Georgia).