Civil War Illustrators

Before the days of action-shot photography, artists visited battles sites to capture the scene with their skilled hands. Those illustrations were then reproduced in publications such as Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and Harper's Weekly. One set of images strikingly illustrates how an on-site visit could translate to an accurate depiction of a battle scene. A particular bridge at Bull Run hampered the retreat of Union troops from Bull Run. Compare the photograph of the bridge with the lithograph.

Frank Leslie's, whose namesake had come from Great Britain in 1848, claimed to have over eighty contributing artists. Harper's Weekly, a competitor, employed British-born Alfred Waud in 1862, while his brother William worked for Leslie's until mid-1863. Like embedded reporters of today, the artists had close calls, met generals and politicians, and were not always accurate or appreciated by the troops and commanding officers.


Caricatures and cartoons found their way into the art of war as well. Thomas Nast provided many of those, as well as drawings, for Harper's Weekly. Winslow Homer made lithographs of photographs by Matthew Brady and drawings of his own for Harper's. Currier and Ives, Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives, were part of the picture as well. Currier earned fame for his work prior to the war. Ives, married to Currier's sister-in-law, had a knack for knowing what the public wanted, and Currier made him a business partner in 1857. During the war, they produced images of both land and sea battles.

One artist had a unique story. Frank Vizetelly, brother of one of the founders of the Illustrated London News, had a nose for war and a talent for depicting it, covering military actions in Europe for the News. Frank then came over to the United States to do the same for the Civil War. However, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was not pleased with how Vizetelly presented the fleeing Union Army after Bull Run. Stanton revoked Vizetelly's permit, so Vizetelly went to the Western Theater. He applied for a permit again several months later, but was denied. Vizetelly went to the Southern side. There, he was accepted. Until the war ended, Vizetelly portrayed his admiration for the South.


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Engraving by William Ridgway based on a drawing by Felix Octavius Carr Darley. 1861Vol 1 Pg 20 RR Bridge Bull Run This etching depicts William Waud, contributing artist for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, at work on the foretop of the U.S. War Steamer Mississippi during a naval engagement with Confederate forces defending the entrance to the Mississippi River. Caricature of Sherman by Thomas Nast. In this caricature by Thomas Nast, Davis is depicted wearing women's clothing in reference to the story that he was dressed as a woman when captured by Union soldiers. Caricature of Grant by Thomas Nast. Caricature of Scott by Thomas Nast. Caricature of Meade by Thomas Nast. Nast based some of his caricatures, including this one of Meade, on Matthew Brady portraits. In this circa 1863 cartoon of Burnside, by an unidentified artist, Burnside is depicted as the infant Hercules. According to myth, the infant Hercules strangled two poisonous snakes that were sent to kill him. In this rendition, the snakes are Copperheads, members of the Democratic Party who wanted an immediate peace settlement with the Confederacy. The larger snake is labeled "Vallandigham" after Ohio Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham, a leader of the Copperhead movement in that state. <br><br>
Burnside, as head of the Department of the Ohio, issued Order 38 on April 13, 1863, which equated any opposition to the war with sympathy to the enemy, a deed punishable by death in some cases. Vallandigham organized a protest against Order 38, for which he was arrested, tried in a military court, and eventually sentence to exile in the Confederacy.
Caricature of Lee by an unidentified artist depicting him as a flea, a play on his name: "F. Lee." A caricature of Hooker by an unidentified artist portraying him as a boxer, a reference to his nickname "Fighting Joe." This caricature of McClellan by an unidentified artist is entitled "Dear Little Mac!" It was an allusion to one of McClellan's nicknames—"The Young Napoleon." This caricature of Banks by an unidentified artist is entitled "The Banks of the Mississippi." The alligator is labeled "Port Hudson," which surrendered to Banks's forces on July 9, 1863, placing the entire Mississippi River under Union control. In this "Crossing the Rocky Mountains" caricature of Fremont by an unidentified artist, Fremont is riding a rocking horse on a mountain top, a reference to Fremont's five expeditions across the Rocky Mountains in the 1840s. This print, published in the Illustrated London News in June 1861, is based on a sketch by Frank Vizetelly.