Finding Civil War Photographs


By Daniel H. Reigle.  Excerpted from the Ask-the-Experts column in the Ohio Civil War Genealogy Journal (OCWGJ), a quarterly publication of the Ohio Genealogical Society.  More information on the journal is available at, or by email to


Those of us not fortunate enough to own photographs of our family members who served in various capacities in the Civil War may despair at ever finding such photographs.  The good news is that there are thousands (millions?) of Civil War photographs in existence; the bad news is that many are in private ownership with no public record, and that many are not identified.  With that caution in mind, there are many directions to take in searching for a photograph.  This brief article will attempt to list many of these potential sources, as starting points for a search.


General Civil War Photograph Collections:

As more databases are available online, this is an important source. For example:

- the Library of Congress’ American Memory collection, at <> has several Civil War collections.

- the U.S. Army Military History Institute, at <> has a very large photograph collection, some of which can now be viewed online.  In OCWGJ, Vol.VI (2002), Numbers 1-4, Diane Gagel published an extensive list of USAMHI photographs that are Ohio-related people or units.


Local Photograph Collections:

Local history and genealogical societies often have extensive collections of local photographs.  These are often a good source for post-war photographs of veterans’ reunions and articles.  Major historical societies and libraries should also be researched, such as the Hayes Presidential Library, the Western Reserve Historical Society, Ohio Historical Society, and Cincinnati Historical Society.


Local Historians and Genealogists:

The local historians in the individual’s home area may have suggestions and resources for use.  For example, Dallas Bogan has done extensive research on Warren County, Ohio.  Some of his work and his email address are located at <>, the Warren County site at Rootsweb.  In many cases, local historians and genealogists are the only source for finding individuals who have private collections or family collections that may include photographs of interest.


Local Newspaper Collections:

In post-war years, there may be photographs of veterans with their obituary, or with feature articles.  For example, a Columbus newspaper in 1913 had a feature article on area veterans who had served at Gettysburg and who were traveling there for the 50th Anniversary celebration.  The article included photographs of each of the veterans.


Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and other Veterans’ Organizations:

Individual photographs of veterans were included in GAR state and national encampment programs for veterans featured on the program or being honored.  GAR posts were named in honor of deceased veterans, and their photographs are sometimes found with those records.  For example, the photograph of Capt. John Bell on the cover of OCWGJ, Vol. IX (2005), No. 4, was published in the report of the proceedings of the 1905 encampment of the Department of Ohio, GAR, held in Bell’s home town of Washington Court House, hosted by the GAR John M. Bell Post No. 119 that was named in Bell’s memory.  The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, the descendant organization of the GAR, includes a “Photos from the Past” section on their website, with photos of both individuals and groups, at <>.  The site also includes photographs of GAR commanders such as John Andrews of Ohio, who served as Commander in 1940 until his death at age 91, <>.


Regimental Histories and Personal Accounts of Unit History:

These can be found by searching for the specific unit using the Dornbusch, Ryan, Bowman, and Ward bibliographies cited in the References section; the two microfiche collections cited in the References (Civil War Unit Histories and Regimental Histories), and the online bibliographies for each unit at the USAMHI and Ohio in the Civil War websites.  Although there will usually be significant overlap among these sources, they should each be searched as there are some materials that will be unique to one of them.  For example, a researcher on the 79th Ohio Volunteer Infantry would find the following source listed in the original Dornbusch bibliography:

“By-laws of the 79th Ohio vol. inft’y assoc’n to which is appended the proceedings at the annual reunion of 1885 together with a roll of survivors.  James M. Ayers, Secretary. Cincinnati, Henry Siebel print. co., 1885.  24 pp. 17 cm.” 

“On cover: 79th Ohio vol. infantry association, 1885.  In private collection of G. D. McDonald.”


In the “update” to Dornbusch, Military Bibliography Volume Four, an additional source is listed:

“Roster of the 79th O.V.I. association, to which is appended the report of the Secretary, the address of the President, the letters from absent comrades, read at the annual reunion, Aug. 8th, 1887, at Blanchester, Ohio. [Cincinnati, OH., Crescent Print. Co., 1887].  34 p. 18 cm.”

 The location of this source is noted as the Huntington Library, San Marino CA.


Using the 1lth OVI as an example, Dornbusch lists one regimental history (1866), one personal narrative (1865), and one biography of the regimental commander (1920) for the 11th OVI.  He also lists the following:

“Proceedings of the...annual reunion...and roster Eleventh Ohio Infantry reunion association.  I/II, 1869/1870 (DNW); XII-XIII, 1883, 1885 (NHi); XV/XVI-XXXI/XXXII, 1887/1888-1903-1904 (NHi); XXXIII/XXXIV-XLVI/XLVIII, 1905/1906-1918/1920 (DLC).”  The locations of these documents are the National War College in Washington DC (DNW); the New York Historical Society (NHi); and the Library of Congress (DLC).


These are examples of older documents and publications, but recent publications may be useful.  For example, Harold George’s recent work on the 9th Ohio Independent Battery enabled him to identify the photograph of one of the 9th’s reunions (OCWGJ, Vol. IX, 2005, No. 4).  Nancy Pape-Findley’s excellent 2002 regimental history of the 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, The Invincibles, also includes many previously-unpublished photographs of members of that unit (OCWGJ, Vol. VIII, 2004, No. 2).


Major Civil War Collectors and Shows

There are many private collectors of Civil War photographs who have photographs for sale.  At the major shows such as the Mansfield OH show held the first weekend in May each year, thousands of identified and unidentified Civil War photographs are displayed for sale by many different collectors and vendors.  Most of these collectors and dealers are very knowledgeable about the entire market and very ethical in their dealings, but caveat emptor always applies.  Some of the most highly regarded authorities are from Ohio or have Ohio connections.  A well-known collector is Larry Strayer of Dayton OH, and an author-publisher who has produced high quality books featuring many photographs is Richard Baumgartner, author of Buckeye Blood: Ohio at Gettysburg at Blue Acorn Press (<>).   Blue Acorn also published Ohioan Dennis Keesee’s Too Young to Die: Boy Soldiers in the Union Army 1861-1865.


Civil War Publications

The monthly newspaper, The Civil War News, includes a column on Civil War photographs by a well-known collector, Ron Coddington, and also includes notices about all major shows across the country and advertisements from major collectors.  Readers can place a classified advertisement in search of photographs (or other items) related to specific units or individuals. (<>).  One magazine is devoted specifically to photographs, Military Images, <>).  Advertisements, notices, and classified ads are also available in major magazines such as Blue & Gray Magazine, <>.


Ebay or Other Online Markets

While it may be improbable that a photograph of a particular individual or unit would be found on Ebay or an online market, there are many photographs becoming available through these channels, and they must be searched.


Genealogy Message Boards and Local Newspapers

As with any genealogy research, questions launched through message boards or notices in local newspapers can sometimes reach collectors or descendants of veterans who may hold individual or group photographs but are not offering them for sale.


As mentioned above in referring to recent OCWGJ articles, research on the reunion photograph of the 9th OIBLA has not only confirmed the identity of the photograph itself, but each of the veterans included as well, thanks to several years of work by Harold George.  Further, the photograph of Capt. John Bell was located only after several years of searching by Bob Grim of Fayette County for the 1905 Report from the GAR State Encampment held that year in Washington Court House.  So, it is possible to locate and identify Civil War and post-war photographs of individuals and units, but it often requires extensive work to do so.




Bowman, Mary A., Compiler.  Some Civil War Manuscripts: A Finding Tool.  Mansfield OH: The Ohio Genealogical Society, 1997.


Dornbusch, C. E.  Regimental Publications & Personal Narratives of the Civil War: A Checklist.  New York: The New York Public Library, 1962.  Volume One, Northern States.  Part V, Indiana and Ohio.


Felton, Silas.  Military Bibliography of the Civil War, Volume Four.  Dayton OH: Morningside House, Inc. 2003.  This expands and updates the Dornbusch bibliography.


Hydrick, Blair.  A Guide to the Microfiche edition of Civil War Unit Histories: regimental histories and personal narratives. Bethesda MD: University Publications of America, 1992-1996.  Five volumes of indexes in book form.


Ohio in the Civil War. Website maintained by Larry Stevens.  Http://


Regimental Histories of the American Civil War: A Guide to the Microfiche Collection.  Ann Arbor MI: UMI, 1991-1993.  Six volumes of indexes in book form.  8167 microfiches.


Ryan, Daniel J.  The Civil War Literature of Ohio: A Bibliography with Explanatory and Historical Notes.  Originally published in Columbus OH, 1911.  Reprinted in Columbus OH, 1994.


U.S. Army Military History.  Website maintained by the U.S. Army Military History Institute.  <>.  Includes unit histories and bibliographies for all Union and Confederate units.


Ward, Steven H.  Buckeyes All: A Compendium and Bibliography of Ohio in the Civil War.  Dayton and Cincinnati OH.  Privately printed by the author, five volumes from 1999 to 2003.  This bibliography has limited availability and can only be found at the Ohio Historical Society, U.S. Army Military History Institute, Western Reserve Historical Society, Ross County Historical Society, and Cincinnati Historical Society.