The 50 Most Powerful Images From the Civil War

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From lash marks on a slave's back to bombs bursting over Charleston, these pictures bring a turbulent era to life.

Photography came of age around the same time President Abraham Lincoln came to Washington. Abolitionists demonstrated the power of the new medium when they circulated a photo of a former slave with his head posed in dignified profile, welts covering his naked back. The New York Independent wrote, "This Card Photograph should be multiplied by the 100,000 and scattered over the states. It tells the story in a way that even Mrs. [Harriet Beecher] Stowe cannot approach, because it tells the story to the eye."

For our recent Civil War commemorative issue, we partnered with the National Portrait Gallery and gathered dozens of photos and lithographs from before, during, and after the war. These images appear throughout the magazine, paired with classic Atlantic articles by writers like Mark Twain, Frederick Douglass, and Louisa May Alcott. Viewed together in the gallery below, they tell a powerful story of their own. 

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Jennie Rothenberg Gritz & Geoffrey Gagnon

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz and Geoffrey Gagnon are Atlantic senior editors.

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