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  Sam A. Cooley, Photographer

Samuel Abbott Cooley was the eldest child born to Dr. Abiel Abbott and Lucretia Hurlbert Cooley on November 3, 1821 in Hartford, Connecticut. He married Emma Bell, with whom he would have a daughter, Anna Marietta. Details regarding Mr. Cooley's education and professional training are unknown, but he and his young family settled in Beaufort, South Carolina, where he operated a store with an upper-floor photography studio. During the fall of 1861, Beaufort was captured by the Union forces during the Civil War Battle of Port Royal. Mr. Cooley, armed with his heavy camera and plate-holder, captured some of the earliest combat images. He would continue to document the battles as a member of the U.S. Army's X (Tenth) Corps, following along with his wagon filled with equipment, chemicals, and fragile glass plates. His makeshift compartment was equipped to successfully handle field developing, Mr. Cooley received a crash course on how chemicals reacted to the stifling summertime heat and blustery winter cold, and he learned how to make the necessary adjustments to produce quality photographs.

As the official photographer for the U.S. Army's Department of the South, Mr. Cooley became the first photographer to take pictures of the buildings he encountered during his travels, and these photographs would later play a prominent role in historic preservation efforts. By May of 1864, Mr. Cooley had sold his studio and planned to move his family back North, but again the Civil War intervened. In December of that year, he chronicled the fighting of the 70th Ohio Infantry and the 55th Illinois Infantry during the Battle of Fort McAllister. He followed the Federal unit through Hilton Head, St. Augustine, Jackson, Charleston, and Savannah, producing more than 2,000 negatives. At around this time, Mr. Cooley entered into a brief partnership with Isaac Becket, and during their short-lived collaboration, they operated small galleries in Beaufort, Hilton Head, and Savannah. By 1865, Mr. Cooley was marketing himself as the “Photographer Dept. of the South,” and generating considerable income by selling his combat and buildings photographs to individuals and military officials.

Because of the notoriety his photographs received locally during the Civil War, Mr. Cooley became a prominent civic leader, later becoming a successful auctioneer and for a time served as sheriff of Beaufort. He returned to Hartford in 1869, where for the next several years he continued selling his Civil War photographs and exhibiting his "Stereopticon Views" to enthusiastic audiences. Sam A. Cooley died in Hartford on May 14/15, 1900 at the age of 78. He is interred in a family plot at Hartford's Old North Cemetery. Today, hundreds of Mr. Cooley's glass-plate negatives can be found at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio, and several wartime photographs reside in various public and private collections throughout the South.

2017 Civil War Darkroom (URL:

2017 Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints (URL:

2009 Civil War Photographer Wagon (URL:,6823,6826).

2011 Going to See the Elephant: A Civil War Memoir (eBook) by Danelle Hall & William D. Hall (URL:

1995 The Houses of St. Augustine by David Nolan (Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, Inc.), p. 34.

2017 Myrtle Bush Plantation near Beaufort, S.C . / Sam. A. Cooley, photographer Tenth Army Corps (URL:

2001 Partners with the Sun: South Carolina Photographers, 1840-1940 by Harvey S. Teal (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press), pp. 108, 110.

2017 Sam A. Cooley; U.S. Photographer; Department of the South – 03517 (URL:

2009 Samuel Abbott Cooley (URL:

Sam Cooley: St. Augustine's Civil War Photographer Department of the South (URL:

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