What are Carte de Visite or CDVs?

Okay, I DO know what CDVs are, but doing some reading on them gives such a deeper picture on WHY they gained such popularity during the Civil War.

Carte de Visite or CDVs were small photographs printed using a glass negative, allowing for multiple copies. The photos were then affixed to a larger piece of heavier paper. The phrase “carte de visite” is obviously French and  means visiting card or calling card.  In the 18th century, in Europe they were a required part of societal etiquette and used to introduce the arrival of their owners (as you did not call on someone in their home uninvited.) Sending the card, declared your intention to visit. A response with a card indicated a willingness to accept the visit. Sounds ridiculously complicated to me. 

In America, CDVs didn’t really take off until the Civil War. With the huge growth of photography, they offered an inexpensive way for soldiers and family members to send and receive photographs of loved ones. Many soldiers carried these photos with them in small wood or thermoplastic cases with velvet lining. And of course, later on, they became popular trading items. I know Sojourner Truth had many made and sold them to fund her travel for speaking engagements. 

One of the things I really want to be able to provide as a part of our crowdfunding effort is a way for people to actually see and learn about individual men from the Invalid Corps, learn about injured veterans, and learn about some of the people pivotal to the Battle of Fort Stevens.  It occurred to me, what better way than a postcard CDV with an image of the individual and information about who they were, what their disability was, and what they accomplished? Granted, that is a bit more like a “baseball card” rather than a true CDV, but I don’t want to just tell the story of the Corps and the battle but of the individuals who were a part of it. And considering CDVs were collected and traded with “celebrity” cards being more valuable. I guess they weren’t too different from baseball cards after all. 🙂

So…as an example to mock up what I’m thinking:

AR Johnson CDV - Blind Confederate Soldier. Image from Archives Texas State Library
AR Johnson CDV – Blind Confederate Soldier. Image from Archives Texas State Library

Name:  Colonel Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson

Army: Partisan Rangers of the Confederate Army

Disability: Blindness. On August 21, 1864, he was blinded by an accidental shot from one of his own men during a skirmish. He was captured by the Federals. Exchanged near the war’s end, and despite his blindness, he attempted to return to active duty.

His Story:  In July 1862, Johnson captured the town of Newburgh, Indiana (and I’ve seen Newburgh spelled three different ways in three different places). He tricked the large Union militia force into surrendering. Johnson only had 12 men with him and two “Quaker Guns,” fake cannons made from stovepipe mounted on an abandoned wagon. Newburgh, Indiana was the first Northern city to fall to the Confederates and from then on he was nicknamed  “Stovepipe.”

After the War: Johnson went on to found the town of Marble Falls, Texas, sometimes referred to as “the blind man’s town.” He was a rancher, mine owner, cotton magnate, real estate dealer, author, and proud father of nine.

You can find out more about CDVs here: http://womenshistory.about.com/od/glossary/g/What-Is-a-CDV.htm


UPDATE:  CDVs are now a part of our FACES OF THE INVALID CORPS $50 reward level on Kickstarter! You will get 8 postcards, each with an image of an individual soldier from the Invalid Corps or pivotal participant in the Battle of Fort Stevens.


Posted on: July 16, 2015