This photograph is from a series that consists of several thousand glass plates (and modern derivative copies including prints, duplicate negatives, interpositives, and microfilm) produced by the photographer Mathew Brady and his associates. Brady (1823–1896) was one of the earliest practitioners of daguerreotype in the United States and soon became a prolific portrait photographer. In his New York and Washington, DC, studios, he and his assistants photographed many of the luminaries of the 1850s and 1860s.
With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Brady endeavored to record the progress of the war with his camera. Although Brady himself actually may have taken only a few photographs of the war, he employed many other well-known photographers. He and his associates, notably Alexander Gardner, George Barnard, and Timothy O'Sullivan, traveled throughout the eastern part of the country and photographed many of the battlefields, towns, and people touched by the war. In addition, Brady photographed distinguished political and military personalities who found time to stop by his Washington, DC, studio. The result was a collection of some 12,000 images (possibly more), which constitute a rich visual document of the Civil War period.
After the Civil War, business for Brady's studios gradually declined. In July 1874, when Brady declared bankruptcy, Secretary of War William Belknap purchased part of Brady's collection of negatives (approximately 2,250 plates) at public auction for $2,500. In April 1875, the War Department purchased 3,735 plates directly from Brady under express congressional authorization to "acquire a full and perfect title to secure and purchase the remainder now in possession of the artists [for] $25,000." The Library of Congress and other institutions later acquired significant collections of Brady photographs. Other collections of Brady photographs are in the Frederick Hill Meserve Collection and the New York Public Library's collection. Among the more than 6,000 images in the National Archives are portraits of all of the well-known Union and Confederate commanders of the war, President Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet officers, congressmen and senators, and other noted personalities of the time. In addition, Brady and his cameramen focused on the lives of ordinary soldiers, recording daily life in camp, troops on the move, and life in forward positions. Also of interest in this series are views of Union and Confederate naval vessels, railroads, supply dumps, and hospitals. All photographs contain captions and are available online in the National Archives Archival Research Catalog (ARC) database (http://www.archives.gov/research_room/arc/).
Provide students with a copy of the photograph, and lead a class discussion about it using questions from the photograph analysis worksheet. Tell students that the house in the photograph was where Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the Civil War (see Our Documents #39, Articles of Agreement Relating to the Surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, 1865). Give students a list of all 100 Our Documents, and ask them to identify the significant places associated with each document. Lead a class discussion about the significance of place in history.