19th Century New Orleans Photography

The Creation of Visual Immortality


 In the months following Louisiana's secession from the Union, scores of military units were formed in the state of Louisiana. Most volunteers traveled to the New Orleans area to be mustered into Confederate service. While there, several New Orleans photographers recorded their images.  Some local photographers even departed with the troops, trading their cameras for arms. Theodore Lilienthal joined the Washington Artillery; A. Constant, the Orleans Guard; Warren Cohen, the Crescent Regiment; William Guay, the Louisiana State Militia; Bernard and Gustave Moses, the 21st Louisiana Infantry; Samuel Moses, the 11th Louisiana Infantry; Louis Prince, the 2nd Louisiana Cavalry, and finally John Clark, a purser in the Confederate army. And a few of these artists actually took to the field to capture their images: Mrs. E. Beachbard, the only known local female photographer of the time, died of disease while photographing Confederates at Camp Moore; J. W. Petty photographed the Washington Artillery while in camp in New Orleans; and J. D. Edwards photographed Confederate soldiers in camp and drill in Pensacola, Mobile, and Virginia.

Ambrotype of female Confederate photographer Mrs. E. Beachbard taken at Camp Moore of Mississippi soldier Edward Lilley. It is attributed to her by her signature use of image identification. This image is marked, “ Edward Lilley  /Camp Moore/ July 5th 1861.”

 Ironically, all of these Confederate photographers owed their trade to a black man. Portrait painter Jules Lion was the first in New Orleans to show the invention of photographic art, the daguerreotype, in 1840. He was a “free man of color.” He had learned the process in 1839 while visiting Paris, hometown of its inventor, Louis Daguerre. The daguerreotype, commonly called a “dag,” was an image formed on a polished, silvered copper plate made light sensitive by its exposure to vapors of various chemicals. The resultant image was a “direct” image, and thus the subject appeared to the viewer in reverse. Although there are no known Lion- labeled images of Confederates, Lion was well-known for photographing New Orleans’ most distinguished citizens: clergymen, judges, attorneys and members of the military. Lion did sign one lithograph of famous composer Harry Macarthy as a Confederate soldier used for his patriotic sheet music, which was published by A. E. Blackmar of New Orleans in 1861.

Jules Lion lithograph of Macarthy

Jules Lion drew the illustrated image of the famous composer Harry Macarthy with his wife Lottie Estelle on the cover of this patriotic Confederate sheet music, which included his famous composition The Bonnie Blue Flag. Lion’s likeness of Macarthy is only one of three known to exist-none of them photographs.

 The art of photography advanced during the antebellum years, and by the time Louisiana joined the Confederacy a newer process replaced that of the daguerreotype. Early Civil War photography was captured on ambrotypes (meaning “immortal pictures”), glass plates with light-sensitive collodion that created negative images on their reverse sides. James Cutting of Boston and his partner, Isaac Rehn of Philadelphia, had developed this process in the mid-1850s. It proved to be a far superior product to the daguerreotype due to its cheaper cost and faster exposure time. Development of the photographic process continued into late 1861 when Professor Hamilton Smith of Ohio invented a yet newer process in which negative images were formed on thin sheets of tin. These images were called ferrotypes, or “tintypes.” These tintypes proved much more durable than their glass counterparts, and lowered the cost of photography even further, allowing almost all soldiers the opportunity to capture their image for their loved ones prior to going off to war.

New Orleans photographers quickly adapted to the lucrative business of taking photographs of military soldiers. This ambrotype taken by Washburn & Co. of New Orleans captured an example of a unique social status in antebellum New Orleans. These Confederate soldiers are half brothers, the one on the right a mulatto.

 However, the most common photographic process used during the Civil War was the use of a glass negative to expose a paper coated with egg white, which created a paper positive called an albumen. This form of photography could be mass produced and included the very popular small carte-de-visite (calling card), commonly called a “cdv.” Cdvs were handed out as calling cards and collected by many citizens as souvenirs of their cherished famous leaders.

CDV of Washington Artillerist

 Civil War images were produced in various sizes. The larger the size, the higher the cost. A full photographic plate, whether an ambrotype or tintype, measured 6 1/2 by 8 1/2 inches, a half plate 4 1/2 by 5 1/2, a fourth plate 3 1/4 by 4 1/4, a sixth plate 2 3/4 by 3 1/4, and a ninth plate 2 by 2 1/2. The most commonly purchased “hard” image was the sixth plate. Cardstock cdvs, or “soft” images, measured 2 1/2 by 4 inches.

 Affluent Washington Artillery members could easily afford to have their images taken as mementos for family and loved ones prior to leaving the city. In fact, they could also afford to have group photographs taken while in camp. J. W. Petty of 156 Poydras Street is the only New Orleans photographer with documented outdoor albumen images of the 5th Company Washington Artillery while its members were stationed at Camp Lewis (now Audubon Park). Several of the photos bear his name and address on their card stock. Although other images do not bear his mark, Theodore Lilienthal may have taken others, since Lilienthal had joined the Washington Artillery’s 6th Company and was in New Orleans when the photographs were taken in 1862. J. D. Edwards has also been credited for some of these outdoor images.


5th Company, Washington Artillery in the field -Camp Lewis (now Audubon Park)

Sign reads, "No. 2/ 64 Carondelet St."

Note striped tent, reported to have been made from circus tent canvas.

 However, there is little doubt that Jay Dearborn Edwards pioneered the use of outdoor photography during the Civil War. When other photographers were satisfied with traditional studio art, Edwards was carrying his equipment over rugged terrain to capture scenes of Confederate soldiers in camp and within Southern forts.  Although he sold these images to the New Orleans market, the more prolific and famous northern photographers Brady and Gardner later overshadowed his talents. It was not until after the war that his innovative genius was recognized. When Francis Miller started his search for Civil War photographs for his monumental 1911 ten volume Photographic History of the Civil War, he sent a researcher to New Orleans to search for Confederate images. The researcher called upon the Washington Artillery Arsenal in New Orleans. Its one-armed armorer, Sergeant Dan Kelly, “said that there were no photographs, but consented to look in the long rows of dusty shelves which line the sides of the huge, dark armory. From almost the last he drew forth a pile of soggy, limp cardboard, covered with the grime of years. He passed his sleeve carelessly over the first, and there spread into view a picture of his father sitting reading among his comrades in Camp Louisiana 49 years before. The photographs were those of J. D. Edwards, who had also worked at Pensacola and Mobile. Here were Confederate volunteers of ’61 and the boys of the Washington Artillery which became so famous in the service of the Army of Northern Virginia.” [Camp Louisiana was located near Mitchell’s Ford on Bull Run River northeast of Manassas Railroad Junction in Northern Virginia, July 8, 1861.]  Today, these outdoor albumen scenes and cartes-de-visite can be used to help determine some historical facts about their subjects.

Glove of Dan Kelly-veteran & armorer of Washington Artillery Arsenal.

 Many photographers placed advertisements on the front or back of their carte-de-visite stocks, the latter called a “back mark,” which can now be used to help date the image. Back marks identified the photographer by name, address, and city. Since many New Orleans photographers moved from studio to studio, their addresses can be cross-referenced with old annual city directories to determine the era of the image.

Advertisements not only appeared on the back of cdvs, but by the use of tokens and business cards. Here is an example of a token from the daguerreotype studio of E. Jacobs and a business card from J. W. Petty.

 For example, many images of Washington Artillerists were taken by Samuel Anderson and Samuel T. Blessing, partners in photography, whose 1861 address was 61 Camp Street. By 1864 the two photographers dissolved their partnership and by 1865, after the war, Anderson merged with Union photographer Austin A. Turner of New York. Therefore, by merely viewing the back mark on the reverse of a cdv card, one may determine when the image was sold.

  Many Washington Artillery cdvs also exhibit a postage stamp affixed to their reverse sides. The stamp represents payment of a photographic tax levied on the sale of images in late 1864. The rate of taxation was determined by the cost of the image. Standard cartes-de-visite, without coloring or touchups that sold for twenty-five cents, required two-cent postage stamp(s) or “revenue” stamps) to be placed on the reverse of the card. The stamp(s) were “cancelled” by the penned initials of the photographer. Therefore, any cdv with a revenue stamp automatically dates it’s sale to the late war, if the subject is Union, or the immediate post war era if Confederate, since loyal Confederates did not start reentering the city until May of 1865.


Reverse of Washington Artillerists' cdvs with "backmarks,"  revenue stamp, & signature (Anderson & Turner/ New Orleans)

(Note: One cannot always be sure that the image was taken at the date noted by the backmark address on the reverse. A subject may have posed for his photograph at an earlier date and his image kept on file as a glass “negative” and additional copies printed later.)

William Watson Washburn's Studio on Canal St.

Louis Prince's Photographic Studio on Canal St.


 By 1866 the revenue stamp was no longer required, and the cdv started to fall out of favor to the much larger “cabinet card” image.

Larger cabinet card of Robert & Beauregard Whann of the Washington Artillery- circa 1880s

  If a back mark is not present on a cdv, other clues may help identify a particular photographer. Many photographers used “signature” props in their photographs. It was quite common to see these same studio props, i.e. a fancy chair or drape, from one Washington Artillery portrait image to another. In some images, multiple variations of these props were used. A studio’s signature linoleum flooring or painted backdrop can also be used to help identify the photographer. Personalized cdvs can also help date or identify an image. Often the pictured soldier would personalize the reverse of a cdv by adding a signature or an inscription with the date when the image was taken. Finally, a subject’s clothing can help date the photograph. After the Civil War, it was a crime for Confederate veterans to be photographed armed or in full uniform. (Confederate veterans could not bear arms.) Because of this ban, members of the Washington Artillery are often seen in post war Anderson & Turner cartes-de-visite wearing civilian clothing, or their Confederate shell jackets or frock coats but wearing white, summer dress nonmilitary pants and no accoutrements. Often, the photographer would also blacken out the military buttons on their Confederate frock coats. One famous example of this ban is photographer Miley’s post war image of Robert E. Lee on his horse Traveller. Lee is seen in uniform without his military insignia or sword.

Several favorite New Orleans photographers and their wartime carte-de-visite back mark addresses include:


Samuel Anderson                          61 Camp St.                  1860-1864

E. Beachbard                                 173 Rampart St.           1861

                                                          Camp Moore, La.          1861

Samuel T. Blessing                       61 Camp St.                   1860-1863

Anderson & Turner                      61 Camp St.                   1864-1865

John H. Clark                                 101 Canal St.                 1861-1865

A. Constant                                   20-21 Hospital St.        1861-1865

A. Constant & L. Moses              21 Hospital St.              1866

Jay Dearborn Edwards              19 Royal St.                   1861                               

William M. Guay                           108 Poydras St.            1861-1862

                                                         75 Camp St.                   1863-1864

Edward Jacobs                             93 Camp St.                   1860-1864

Theodore Lilienthal                     102 Poydras St.            1862-1865

Felix Moissenet                            6 Camp St.                     1861

Bernard Moses                             46 Camp St.                   1861-1864

Gustave Moses                            46 Camp St.                    1861-1865

Samuel  Moses                             Camp & Poydras           1861-1865 

J. W. Petty                                   136 Poydras St.             1861-1865

Louis Isaac Prince                      112 Canal St.                  1861

                                                         8 St. Charles St.            1865

William Watson Washburn      142 Canal St.                  1861-1865

                                                        113 Canal St.                  1866       

 Without the proliferation of these Southern photographers and the survival of their historic photographs, the story of America’s Civil War would not have the same impact on today’s generation. They imprint upon the viewer’s mind an eternal, fixed image to a name or event. These images help make those heroic Civil War soldiers immortal.


 New Orleans

Through the Eyes of Its Photographers

Jackson Square and the French Quarter as seen from the east bank across the levee near Bienville St. on the riverfront.


The following images were taken by various New Orleans photographers and gives an idea of what the Crescent City looked like at the time of the War Between the States.



St. Louis Cathedral

East bank Riverfront, Jackson Square

West bank Riverfront, Algiers shipyard

Camp Street                                  Decatur Street

Jackson Square as seen from river 

Waterfront, Jackson Square

Canal Street, looking towards the river

City Hall (left); Captain C. Slocomb's [5th Company, Washington Artillery] house (right)

Bird's Eye view New Orleans skyline from St. Patrick's Church

Bird's Eye view New Orleans skyline overlooking Lafayette Square

Riverfront with steamships

Custom House under construction

St. Charles Hotel                             United States Mint

Bayou St. John

Statue of Henry Clay at foot of Canal Street, looking toward St. Charles hotel

Medical College of Louisiana on Common Street

Designed by architect James A. Darkin in 1847, it was the third largest in the country.

A temporary arsenal for the Washington Artillery was across the street from this facility after the Civil War.

Charity Hospital on Common Street ( now Tulane Ave)

The building dates to 1832 and came under the administration of the Sisters of Charity,

who would partner with the Medical College of Louisiana and run the hospital for the next century.


Gas Works, New Orleans

Christ Presbyterian Church, Canal St.

Canal Street

St. Patrick's Hall, New Orleans

Hotel Royal

Crescent City Billiard Club on right

General Benjamin Butler's Headquarters

Canal Street, looking from the river

Chalmette Battlefield


Steamboats on the riverfront

On the Waterfront

Cotton bales piled to the extreme!