Visual Art in the Civil War

Sarah Tollman


The American Civil War (1861-1865), is know as the first major battle where the general public became aware of what was happening through the use of art and photography. There was a high demand from families and friends for news of the war and the soldiers, and this resulted in many journalists and artists working out in the battlefields. They all wanted to be the first to find news and return home with this information. The most common place for artists to go was Virginia because of the high number of troops located there.

There was no special protection for artists working in the midst of combat, therefore, many were wounded, killed, captured, or contracted diseases in the field. There were few artists who were also soldiers, which meant there was some protection and their experience became much more connected rather than just being an observer from the outside. Drawings and other artworks were transported by either mail or express-messenger systems.

In 1855, the first illustrated newspaper, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper was created, soon followed by Harper's Weekly and New York Illustrated News. These newspapers were exclusively available to the Union; mostly this was because of the termination of mail between the North and the South. The South tried to create their own illustrated newspaper, the Southern Illustrated News, but it did not thrive due to the inability to have artists in the field. Futhermore, Southern art of that time was thought to have died with the war, as many art galleries were demolished.

Thomas Nast


Thomas Nast (1840-1902) is most famous for his creation of the Republican Elephant and the Democratic Donkey. He was born on September 27, 1840 in Germany. At the age of six, he immigrated to New York City, where he studied art. In 1859, he started work as an artist for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. At that time, pictures were carved into blocks of wood, then stamped onto the page. As a result of this, many people, including Nast, took credit for the work of those who created the drawings that they then carved into wood.

In 1862, Nast started to transpire as an artist. As well as the quality itself, Nast sent strong political messages through his art, which would often sway the opinions of those who saw it. Throughout the war, Nast promoted Lincoln, the Union, and Anti-Slavery, while he portrayed the South as cruel and inhumane. In the election of 1864, the Democratic Nominee opposing Lincoln was George B. McClellan. He proposed to end the war by not expanding slavery, but not terminating it either, in order to preserve the Union. Most were in favor of this because they felt the war had gone on for too long already an
Compromise with the South
Compromise with the South
d it was now a waste of human life. At this point, Nast created an illustration titled, "Compromise With The South" (on right). As well as the title of the picture, "Compromise with the South" was the campaign platform for the Democratic party. The North is depicted on the left, a defeated soldier bowing--with lady liberty crying at his feet--to the victorious Southern soldier on the right. The tombstone the Southern soldier has his foot on reads "In Memory of the Union Heroes Who Died in a Useless War". Sending the message that surrendering to the South would defeat the purpose of the war and those who lost their lives to it. Two months subsequent to the creation of Nast's drawing, Lincoln won the election.

From 1862-1877, however, Nast had the ability to draw anything he wanted in Harper's weekly. In 1877, the magazine changed hands, and the new publisher would not let Nast draw much, so he quit six months later. From here, Nast's influence only declined. He died on December 7, 1902 due to yellow fever after being appointed consul general to Ecuador by Theodore Roosevelt. Even though his life as a magazine artist may have been short-lived, he created images that dramatically changed and affected the times.

John F. E. Hillen


John Francis Edward Hillen (1819-1865), a native Belguin, immigrated to the United States in the early 1850s. He joined the Union army in 1861. While in the army, he made drawings of the camps and battles in Virginia, Georgia, and Tennesee. Once discharg
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Two Miles West of Atlanta
ed from the army a year after he joined due to injury, his drawings were published in Harper's Weekly and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.

Two miles west of Atlanta (on right) was created on July 29th 1864. Hillen describes: Yesterday at about halfpast 10 in the forenoon, a Lt. of the 15th Corp signal officer reported to Gen. Logan that a large mass of infantry were coming from Atlanta towards the south, very likely to flank us - we had just time enough to build rude breastworks with rails and sticks &c without a single shovelful of earth - It was about 12 o'clock - the enemy rushed with their habitual impetuosity & were repulsed. They made in that afternoon nine different charges! & nine times repulsed with great cost and the day was unusually hot - They had, by the request of a Lieut who deserted to our line, four Genls wounded, Brown, Stevenson, Loring & Gibson [...] of them mortally - their losses in killed alone is about 1000 - we [...] not over 100 persons. Our losses - In the 15th corps which alone bore the brunt of the rebels assaults - the losses in killed, wounded and missing [...] up to 537; in the 17th corps which was but very slightly engaged, the loss not above 20 - few prisoners were taken by the rebs [signed] J.F.E. Hillen.



Theodore R. Davis


Theodore Russell Davis (1841-) was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1841. Following his graduation of Rittenhouse Academy, in Washington D.C., Davis studied for four years with a very famous artist of the time, Helrick. In later years, Davis worked alongside Arthur Lumley (biography below) for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. Davis occasionally wrote articles in the newspaper in addition to illustrations. During the Civil War, he illustrated most of the major battles, and his drawings were featured in Harper's Weekly. At one point in the war, Davis commanded a regiment, but soon resigned because it began to interfer with his art. Throughout his documentation of the war, Davis traveled with a British journalist, saying he worked for the London Illustrated News, while really working for Harper's Weekly. He did this because this way the confederate forces continued to believe he was neutral in his beliefs and this enabled him to spy on the weaponry of the South for the North. Davis then traveled with Sherman during his expedition at sea, documenting it in his sketchbook. These drawings later appeared in Harper's Weekly. A major installment in Davis' career as a war artist was his documentation of the fight between Merrimac and Monitor. Throughout the war, he was wounded twice, and his horse was shot out from under him.

Winslow Homer


Winslow Homer (1836-1910) was born in Boston, Massachusetts on February 24, 1836. Homer did not receive formal art training, but rather at age 19 began training with a lithographer (someone who carved pictures into wood in order to put them into a newspaper) at J. H. lithographic firm in Boston. Over time, Homer began to dislike the work, finding it tedious, and left to become a freelance illustrator. In 1859, Homer began studying at the National Academy of Design in New York City as well as taking a few painting lessons from Frederic Rondel. Soon after, he set up a studio on 10th street, and illustrated for magazines such as Harper's Weekly, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, and Appleton's Journal. When Homer started working for Harper's Weekly in the late 1850's, he created lithography works. As time passed, Homer began drawing as well. One event he drew was for Lincoln's inauguration. In his early days as an artist, Homer simply tried to copy the scene in front of him as accurately as possible rather than adding an artistic interpretation. However, as the war progressed, so did Homer's art, and he began adding his own
Sleeping Soldiers
Sleeping Soldiers
interpretation to it. In 1862, Homer was sent to cover the Peninsula Campaign, where McClellan took his troops to the tip of the York-James Peninsula then to fight west to Richmond. Though this was the only time Homer was asked to cover a part of the war, he frequently visited the battlefields to draw in his sketchbook, many of which appeared in Harper's Weekly. The Majority of Homer's works were not of clashing armies, but rather of camp life. He later translated many of his sketches into paintings. "Sleeping Soldiers" (on right), shows the Wilderness Battle. It depicts the soldiers sleeping in their trench coats after a day of intense combat, which went into the night, with their guns at the ready.

David Strother


David Hunter "Porte Crayon" Strother (1816-1888) was born in Martinsburg, Virginia on September 16, 1816. He was a widely known author of that time, illustrating his books purely in crayon, and thus gaining his nickname, “Porte Crayon”. From 1842-1849, Strother studied art in Rome and New York with Samuel Morse, inventor of the electric telegraph. Throughout the Civil War, Storther created crucial maps that lead the Union through the South. Strother was violently opposed to secession, and began the Civil War as Captain and Assistant Adjunct General in the Union army. He later served as a staff member for both Major General David Hunter and Major General N. P. Banks. He was also Colonel of the Third West Virginia Cavalry. Strother was later promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General. In addition, he worked as a draftsman. During the war, Strother was a correspondent for Harper's Weekly. He worked for Harper's for approximately 15 years. After the war however, he resumed writing. Some of his works were later bound into a book titled, "Virginia Illustrated". Later, in 1879, he was appointed Consul General to Mexico by President Rutherford B. Hayes.

Henri Lovie


Henri H. Lovie was born in Prussia in 1829, and immigrated to Cincinnati in the 1850s as a painter, designer, and illustrator. He illustrated a multitude of books throughout the 1850s. In addition, Lovie taught drawing at the Cincinnati Academy of Design and Cincinnati Wesleyan Female College. Lovie also participated in the Cincinnati Sketch Club. In 1860, Lovie migrated to New York, where he became an artist for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. In 1861, the newspaper sent to follow Lincoln in his travels from Illinois to Washington D.C. and document his inauguration. Lovie joined the Union army, drawing the battles as he traveled. Following the battle of the Philippi and West Terrain, Lovie sketched while on the field, and sketched soldiers in the camps. In June of that year, Lovie traveled with the Federal Expeditionary Forces in their quest to conquer Jeffer
Monument in Memorial Park, Springfield, Ohio
Monument in Memorial Park, Springfield, Ohio
son City and Boonville. Following the essential final battle in the war, the Battle of Wilson's Creek, Lovie recorded the death of General Lyons. Lovie then escaped to Kentucky, later returning to Missouri drawing scenes of battles at Munfordville, Kentucky, and Stones River, then the death of Colonel Julius Garesche. 148 of Lovie's Civil War drawings were published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. In the following years, Lovie moved to Philadelphia, creating a life-size bronze figure of a soldier, now standing at a war memorial in Springfield, Ohio (on right).


Arthur Lumley


Arthur Lumley (1837-1912) was born in Dublin, Ireland, and immigrated to Brooklyn, New York in 1840. Throughout the 1850s, Lumley studied art at the National Academy of Art and Design, while earning a living by illustrating books and newspapers such as New York Illustrated, Harper's Weekly, and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. In April of 1861, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper sent Lumley to document the Union army as it traveled into Virginia. Lumley was the first artist the newspaper sent out to document the war. Lumley successfully made drawings of the charge of the New York City Fire Zoaves, and the Confederate response. By the end of the war, Lumley had published 298 drawings dispersed between New York Illustrated, Harper's Weekly, and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.


Alfred R. Waud


Alfred Rudolph Waud was born
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Entrenched Guns of Stevens' Battle at Gettysburg
in England in 1828. After studying at the School of Design at Somerset, Waud painted sets for theatre. Bored, Waud immigrated to the United States in 1850, where he learned lithography (explained above under Thomas Nast). In 1860, Waud became an illustrator for the New York Illustrated News. The following year, the newspaper sent him out to cover the war.
His drawing, Entrenched Guns of Stevens’ Battery at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863 is to the right. His use of Chinese watercolor gives a greater effect of the smoke.


Crossword Puzzle

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Bibliography