Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Civil War

At 4:30 in the morning, on April 12, 1861--one hundred and fifty years ago today--Confederate artillery commenced its bombardment of Fort Sumter at Charleston, South Carolina. Thirty-three hours later, the Union garrison at the fort surrendered. The next day, April 15, 1861--four years to the day before he died from an assassin's bullet--President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 troops to put down the insurrection. Thus was ushered in our great Civil War, perhaps the most profound event in American history.

In 1861, Indiana was in its forty-fifth year as a state. Its population was 1,350,428, fifth among the states. Initially, Indiana planned on filling the ranks of six regiments, about 4,600 men in all. Lew Wallace, a veteran of the Mexican war, was to serve as adjutant general and was charged with raising the needed number. So many men answered the call that some had to be turned away. By the end of the war, though, 197,141 Hoosiers had served in the Union cause, second among the states. Another 100,000 filled the ranks of the state militia. Over 25,000 of these men lost their lives. Not counted among that number is the nation's commander-in-chief, who--though he was born in Kentucky and elected from Illinois--spent his formative years in what is now Spencer County, Indiana.

The men who went to war came from all walks of life, art included. Some drew and painted scenes in their own diaries, letters, and sketchbooks. Others created works for publication. Lew Wallace (1827-1905) of Brookville and Crawfordsville was--in addition to being a lawyer, military officer, governor of New Mexico, minister to the Ottoman Empire, and author of the best-selling American novel of the nineteenth century--an artist and illustrator. James Farrington Gookins (1840-1904) of Terre Haute and Indianapolis, who served with Wallace for a time, drew sketches for woodcuts published in Harper's. And Adolph G. Metzner (1834-1918) of Indianapolis kept a sketchbook of the things he witnessed during his war years. (I have written about him in a previous entry, and his work is subject of a newly published book.) Countless artists who came after them have depicted scenes of the Civil War. In any case, we commemorate the men and women who served and died during those four years that rent a nation and the century and a half since that have mended it.

The weekly newspaper was a fairly new thing in America when the Civil War began. Rapid communication by telegraph and rapid transport by train allowed publishers to stay on top of current events and to get the news out to a nation of readers in pretty short order. Photography could not yet be reproduced in the mass media. Instead, newspapers and magazines relied on line art, cut on blocks of wood and assembled into printing plates. Most woodcuts were the work of two artists, the sketch artist who submitted his work from the field and the engraver who transferred the sketch to wooden blocks, worked in a painstaking way for the production of the final image. 

Here's a woodcut from the June 22, 1861, issue of Harper's Weekly, captioned: "The Eleventh Indiana Volunteers Swearing to Remember Buena Vista, at Indianapolis, May, 1861--Sketched by Mr. James F. Gookins." Gookins was a Hoosier, a mostly self-taught artist, and a student of law at Wabash College when war broke out. He served for a time with Lew Wallace and the Eleventh Indiana Volunteer Regiment, a unit of Zouaves which saw service very early in the war. The story accompanying Gookins drawing in Harper's:

Remember Buena Vista
On page 388 we publish a picture of a most striking scene, which occurred at Indianapolis, in the inclosure [sic] surrounding the State Capitol, a few days since. The artist from whose sketch our picture was made, Mr. James F. Gookins, of Company I, 11th Regiment Indiana Volunteers (Zouaves), writes us as follows concerning it:

The Regiment was presented by the ladies of Indiana with a splendid stand of colors, after receiving which the whole Regiment, kneeling, with uplifted right hands, took an oath before God that, with His help, they would not only avenge themselves of the insults cast at the flag of the nation, but furthermore of the contumely and wrong received by the Indiana troops at the hands of Jeff Davis during the war with Mexico. To keep this oath more continually before them they have adopted the motto "Remember Buena Vista!" as their warcry.

Another image from Harper's. The caption reads: "At Romney, Va., June 11th, 1861,--The Eleventh Indiana Zouaves, Colonel Lewis Wallace, crossing, on the double quick, the bridge over the Potomac." The artist is unknown.
The story of the Civil War is of course incomplete without Abe Lincoln. His election to the presidency was--in the minds of the secessionists--the event that precipitated the South's withdrawal from the Union. Even then, a legend had begun to build about him and his life. John McCutcheon (1870-1949) drew from that legend, just as so many cartoonists  have, before and since. From John McCutcheon's Book.
As a child, Franklin Booth (1874-1948) learned to draw by imitating woodcut illustrations from books and other publications. By the time Booth began working professionally as an artist, Abraham Lincoln had reached the status of an icon in American art, history, and popular imagination. This drawing, though it has the appearance of a woodcut, was actually done with a pen. It's a decoration for an unknown use. Like Lincoln, Booth grew up on an Indiana farm, in the artist's case, in Hamilton County, northeast of Indianapolis. He was perhaps the most accomplished Indiana illustrator of his time. His drawing of Lincoln here only hints at his really astonishing technique and enormous body of work.   
There are of course other illustrations by Indiana artists on the topic of the Civil War. Unfortunately, many of them are protected from usage on the Internet. If anyone has pictures to offer, please send them to me at:

Text and captions copyright 2011 by Terence E. Hanley

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