The Civil War in Color: 28 Stunning Colorized Photos That Brings the American Civil War Alive

The Civil War comes alive as never before in this extraordinary collection of colorized photographs from the era. Not only does it feature portraits of famous leaders and ordinary soldiers but also vignettes of American life during the conflict: scenes from urban and plantation life; destroyed cities; contested battlefields.

Here, TIME commissioned Sanna Dullaway, a photo editor based in Sweden, to colorize some of the most iconic images of the Civil War. The end result, which can take up to three hours to achieve per picture, offers a novel and contemporary perspective to history.

The American Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 9, 1865) (also known by other names) was a civil war in the United States fought between the Union (forces remaining loyal to the federal union, or “the North”), and the Confederacy (forces from southern states that voted to secede — “the South”).[e] The central cause of the war was the status of slavery, especially the expansion of slavery into territories acquired as a result of the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican–American War. On the eve of the Civil War in 1860, four million of the 32 million Americans (~13%) were enslaved black people, almost all in the South.

The practice of slavery in the United States was one of the key political issues of the 19th century. Decades of political unrest over slavery led up to the war. Disunion came after Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 United States presidential election on an anti-slavery expansion platform. An initial seven Southern slave states declared their secession from the country to form the Confederacy. Confederate forces seized federal forts within territory they claimed. The last minute Crittenden Compromise tried to avert conflict but failed; both sides prepared for war. Fighting broke out in April 1861 when the Confederate army began the Battle of Fort Sumter in South Carolina, just over a month after the first inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. The Confederacy grew to control at least a majority of territory in eleven states (out of the 34 U.S. states in February 1861), and asserted claims to two more. The states that remained loyal to the federal government were known as the Union. Both sides raised large volunteer and conscription armies. Four years of intense combat, mostly in the South, ensued.

During 1861–1862 in the war’s Western Theater, the Union made significant permanent gains, though in the war’s Eastern Theater, the conflict was inconclusive. In September 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which made ending slavery a war goal. To the west, the Union destroyed the Confederate river navy by summer 1862, then much of its western armies, and seized New Orleans. The successful 1863 Union siege of Vicksburg split the Confederacy in two at the Mississippi River. In 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s incursion north ended at the Battle of Gettysburg. Western successes led to General Ulysses S. Grant’s command of all Union armies in 1864. Inflicting an ever-tightening naval blockade of Confederate ports, the Union marshaled resources and manpower to attack the Confederacy from all directions. This lead to the fall of Atlanta in 1864 to Union General William Tecumseh Sherman and his march to the sea. The last significant battles raged around the ten-month Siege of Petersburg, gateway to the Confederate capitol of Richmond.

The war effectively ended on April 9, 1865, when Confederate General Lee surrendered to Union General Grant at the Battle of Appomattox Court House, after abandoning Petersburg and Richmond. Confederate generals throughout the Southern states followed suit, the last surrender on land occurring on June 23. By the end of the war, much of the South’s infrastructure was destroyed, especially its railroads. The Confederacy collapsed, slavery was abolished, and four million enslaved black people were freed. The war-torn nation then entered the Reconstruction era in a partially successful attempt to rebuild the country and grant civil rights to freed slaves.

The Civil War is one of the most studied and written about episodes in the history of the United States. It remains the subject of cultural and historiographical debate. Of particular interest is the persisting myth of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. The American Civil War was among the earliest to use industrial warfare. Railroads, the telegraph, steamships, the ironclad warship, and mass-produced weapons saw wide use. In total the war left between 620,000 and 750,000 soldiers dead, along with an undetermined number of civilian casualties.[g] President Lincoln was assassinated just five days after Lee’s surrender. The Civil War remains the deadliest military conflict in American history.[h] It accounted for more American military deaths than all other wars combined until the Vietnam War. The technology and brutality of the Civil War foreshadowed the coming World Wars.

Allan Pinkerton, President Lincoln, and Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand; at the main eastern theater of the war, Battle of Antietam, Sept.-Oct., 1862.
Surgeons of the 3rd Division before hospital tent in Petersburg, Va., Aug. 1864.
John L. Burns, the “old hero of Gettysburg,” with gun and crutches in Gettysburg, Penn., July, 1863.
Washington, District of Columbia. Tent life of the 31st Penn. Inf. at Queen’s farm, vicinity of Fort Slocum in Washington, DC, 1861.
Allan Pinkerton (“E. J. Allen”) of the Secret Service on horseback in Antietam, Md., Oct. 1862..
Cock fighting at Gen. Orlando B. Willcox’s headquarters in Petersburg, Va., 1864.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Camp of Captain [John J.] Hoff., July, 1865
Robert Smalls, S.C. M.C. Born in Beaufort, SC, April 1839 Summary African American legislator.
Portrait of Rear Adm. David D. Porter, officer of the Federal Navy, 1860
Portrait of Maj. Gen. (as of Apr. 15, 1865) George A. Custer, officer of the Federal Army], 1865
Abraham Lincoln, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front. 1863
 President Lincoln on the battlefield.
Antietam, Md. President Lincoln and Gen. George B. McClellan in the general’s tent, Sept. – Oct. 1862
Capt. Custer of the 5th Cavalry is seen with Lt. Washington, a prisoner and former classmate
Bealeton, Virginia. Officer’s mess, Company E, 93d New York Volunteers, Aug., 1863
Gettysburg, Pa. Three Confederate prisoners, June-July, 1863.
Dead on battlefield at 1st Bull Run, 1862-1865
Battle-field of Gettysburg–Dead Confederate sharpshooter at foot of Little Round Top, July, 1863
Remembering the dead at Sudley Church near Bull Run, Va. March 1862.
Veterans & Medical – Amputated arms BW
Powder monkey by gun of U.S.S. New Hampshire off Charleston, S.C., 1860
Unidentified African American soldier in Union uniform with wife and two daughters, 1863-1865
Mary Todd Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln, seated next to small table, in a reflective pose, May 16, 1861. Taken on May 16, 1861 at Mathew Brady’s studio in Washington, D.C.
1865: [Washington Navy Yard, D.C. Lewis Payne, in sweater, seated and manacled] Summary Photograph of Washington, 1862-1865, the assassination of President Lincoln, April-July 1865. This photograph has background of dark metal, and was presumably taken on the monitors, U.S.S. Montauk and Saugus, where the conspirators were for a time confined.
1865: [Washington Navy Yard, D.C. David E. Herold, a conspirator
 Frederick Douglass
Portrait of Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, officer of the Federal Army, 1860-1865
The staff of Gen. Fitz-John Porter. Lieutenant William G. Jones and George A. Custer reclining at Falmouth, Va. 1863
Soldiers bathing, North Anna River, Va.–ruins of railroad bridge in background
Gettysburg, Pa. Alfred R. Waud, artist of Harper’s Weekly, sketching on battlefield, July 1863

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