Ruins in Carey Street, Richmond
Very little is known of the early career of Thomas C. Roche. During the Civil War he worked for E. & H. T. Anthony Company, New York, publishers of cartes-de-visite and stereoscopic views and distributors of photographic supplies. In early April 1865, near the war's end, Roche received special orders from Anthony to work for General Montgomery Meigs. As quartermaster of the Union Army, Meigs was responsible for the procurement and transportation of everything from bootlaces to artillery. He was also an amateur photographer and recognized the military usefulness of documentary photography. This view shows the ruins of Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy, soon after Jefferson Davis and his Confederate cabinet evacuated the city on April 3, 1865. Fires intentionally set by fleeing Confederates and looters destroyed much of the city otherwise untouched by the Union Army. On April 9, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively putting an end to the Confederacy and then, a few weeks later, the Civil War.
Thomas C. Roche (American, 1826–1895)
Hundreds of photographers whose names may never be known made their living following the armies during the Civil War. They worked out in the field tents and traveled at a moment’s notice. Photographers recorded the faces of tens of thousands of soldiers: new recruits and veterans—producing a vast likeness of American society. Many Civil War photographers began their careers as apprentices to Mathew B. Brady, America's self-appointed photographic "historian." Initially, a small corps of photographers copied maps and charts for the Union's Secret Service, which were distributed as photographic prints to both field and division commanders. During the Civil War, most photographers worked with the collodion-on-glass negatives, which required delicate and laborious procedures even in the studio. When the photographer was ready for action, a sheet of glass was cleaned, coated with collodion, partially dried, dipped carefully into a bath containing nitrate of silver, then exposed in the camera for several seconds and processed in the field darkroom tent--all before the silver collodion mixture had dried. Given the danger of their situation and the technical difficulty of their task, front-line photographers rarely if ever attempted action scenes. Civil War photographers produced vast photographic documentation of the Civil War. Despite decades of painstaking research by dedicated historians and Civil War buffs, a large number of the era's photographs remain unidentified.