Art During the Battle Between the States


The American Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 26, 1865)
By Victoria Chick



During the time the American Civil War raged, 1861-1865, it was expressed visually through photography, engraving, and painting. Because early photography required long exposure times with the subjects remaining still, most photography was not of actual battles. Instead, the realities of conflict and the aftermath of the battlefield were portrayed most frequently through the photographic medium.

The subjects of painters of the time dwelt more on the emotional aspects of slavery and the divisions that arose between families who took opposite sides either from conscription or from strongly held views. Most all the paintings done in the 1860s were done in the style of Romanticism and reflected subjects in a dramatic way.

Numerous artists also went into the battlefield and did visual reporting through drawings which were reproduced for newspapers and magazines by new commercial engraving processes. Photography and engravings brought the Civil War to the public in a way that made it personal and close, even if they lived far away from actual conflict.

Mathew Brady, credited with photographing the Civil War, was the catalyst for creating the field of photojournalism. Lincoln granted his request to record the War and Brady was at the Battle of Bull Run. Brady suffered from an eye disease that worsened as the war developed, so he hired around 20 young men to travel to the battle areas to take photographs for him. Brady’s hired men were trained by Brady and given portable, horse-drawn photography studios. These men did a good job, taking some of the most powerful images from the Civil War. Timothy O’Sullivan and Alexander Gardener were two particularly outstanding photographers.

  • A Ride for Liberty - The Fugitive Slaves, by - Eastman Johnson
    A Ride for Liberty - The Fugitive Slaves, by - Eastman Johnson

Alfred Waud was one of the best draftsmen doing fast battlefield and action sketches. He received a military commission in order to be in the thick of things. Engravings based on his drawings were printed in the New York Illustrated News.

One of the notable 19th-century fine artists to use Civil War subject matter was Winslow Homer, a young Boston painter who had training in lithography and illustration. Harper’s Magazine sent him to the front where he did drawings that conveyed timely news. Many of his drawings were source material for later paintings.

Eastman Johnson and Theodore Kaufmann did paintings emphasizing slavery from the slave point of view.

Many were done during the Civil War, but these artists and others had begun this theme as early as the 1830s and continued painting scenes of shared experiences between Caucasians and Negroes as well as paintings where the subject was universal humanity. During Reconstruction, many paintings expressed a hopeful spirit.

Dozens of painters, photographers, sketch artists, and engraving technicians used their talents to record the events, details, and emotions of the Battle Between the States.

Research continues to be done by artists who produce accurate visual representations to satisfy the public fascination with Civil War history. Artists also continued with post-Civil War themes during Reconstruction.

Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio in southwest New Mexico. She received a B.A. in Art from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and awarded an M.F.A. in Painting from Kent State University in Ohio. Visit her website at

Cow Trail Art Studio - Silver City, NM




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About the Author:

Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio in southwest New Mexico.

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