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What do baseball cards and Civil War generals have in common?

In the late 1800s, baseball cards allowed fans to carry images of their favorite players with them. During the Civil War (1861–1865), similar cards, known as “cartes de visite,” were made of military leaders and other prominent people. These were shared with family members, friends, and admirers, but also issued in large quantities for purchase by the general public.

The photographs in this case are modern prints made from vintage negatives in the National Portrait Gallery's Fredrick Hill Meserve Collection. The original images were created by the studio of Mathew Brady, one of America’s foremost portrait photographers at the time.

Brady produced an extraordinary visual record of the Civil War. His studio (active 1844–1894) also did a brisk business creating cartes de visite of the ever-changing roster of Union generals. The studio marketed these photographic card portraits to a public eager for pictures of the men it hoped would lead the Union to victory.

To learn more about Brady studio portraits from the Frederick Hill Meserve Collection, see Storied Women of the Civil War Era, a temporary exhibit on display through February 6, 2022, at the National Portrait Gallery.

Portrait of Union General George McClellan sitting in uniform against a neutral background circa 1861
Union General George McClellan (1826–1885)
Mathew Brady Studio, Modern albumen silver
print from ​​​​​1861 wet-collodion negative
Collection of the National Portrait Gallery
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