The American Civil War raged between April 1861 and April 1865. The conflict was between the Northern states, powerful, densely populated and moving towards industrialisation, and the Southern states, with an essentially agrarian economy based on slave labour from Africa. A number of photographers went to the conflict area at the outbreak of hostilities.
At the end of December 1863, George Bernard was appointed to the topographical section of the Mississippi military division. Under the orders of the engineer Orlando Poe, he was charged with supplying the general staff with the necessary elements for drawing up maps and plans, and for directing operations. He followed General Sherman’s troops who took Atlanta in September 1864 before heading off towards Savannah, on the east coast, then coming back to Charleston which had been burnt down in February 1865.
After the war, encouraged by Poe and Sherman, Barnard had the idea of publishing, through subscription, an album of all sixty one plates entitled Photographic Views of Sherman's Campaign. The majority of images produced during this war did not tone down the violence of this conflict nor shrink from showing its victims. But Bernard’s photographs, on the contrary, essentially present empty landscapes and ruins. The photographs of the Southern Confederate defences were taken during the fighting; whereas those showing Atlanta in ruins were taken in 1866. Barnard in fact went back to take a few more images which he deemed necessary for a more well-balanced series of photographs.