George N. Barnard was born in 1819, in Coventry, Connecticut. During his childhood, he lived throughout the country, including the South. In New York, he opened a studio; to this day, it is not known where he learned his skill. He married Sarah Jane Hodges in 1843, with whom he had two children, a daughter, Mary Grace, and a son, who died in infancy. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Barnard was sent to photograph various locations in Virginia, including Harper's Ferry, Bull Run and Yorktown, as well as in, and around, Washington, D.C.