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List Of The First Combat Photographs Ever Taken

I have researched early military photography for a few years online and have found there is no conclusive list of the earliest combat photography and so I have set out to make one. Combat photography can be differentiated from other types of war photography in that the action of battle can be seen occurring in the photograph. The first war photography took place in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) by an anonymous photographer, but it wasn't until the American Civil War (1861-1865) that the first combat photos were taken. Because of the limitations posed by the time and complexity it took to take a photo in the mid-to-late 1800's made it difficult to obtain images during battles but a few of naval actions did emerge. There was also not a tradition of journalists and artists putting their lives on the line for an image. The overall amount of combat photography before World War One was small, but a few images did emerge from a few courageous and pioneering people. By the time of World War One governments saw the value in having large numbers of photographers to document conflicts for propaganda purposes and improved camera technology allowed combat photographers to routinely capture most iconic images of many conflicts.

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American Civil War: Fort Sumter, South Carolina, 1863

Photograph taken from Fort Sumter of three Union ironclads firing at Fort Moultrie. While taking the picture the ships turned their guns on the photographer. Some of his equipment was hit by cannon fire and he narrowly escaped with his life. By George S. Cook. (1863)

Franco-Prussian War: Battle of Sedan, France, 1870

Two views of German skirmishers advancing towards French positions at La Moncelle during the Battle of Sedan taken from similar positions behind French lines. Photographer unknown. (1870)


The house in the foreground of this photo is visible in the midground of the first photo in lesser detail. It is clearly bullet riddled and possibly has blood flowing from the doorway. The German skirmishers are closer and in two lines with another column coming to reinforce them to their rear.

Boer War, Battle of Paardeberg, South Africa, 1900

Two Canadian soldiers fighting with another dead by their side at the Battle of Paardeberg, Orange Free State (South Africa). The photographer's badge and

helmet were hit by gunfire while taking the photo. By Lt. James Cooper Mason. (1900)

Russo-Japanese War: Siege of Port Arthur, China, 1904

The destruction of the Russian battleship Petropavlovsk by a Japanese mine near Port Arthur (Lüshun Port), China. Photographer unknown. (1904)

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