Posts Tagged ‘American Civil War’

By John Boudreau, Communications Intern


After Winslow Homer, Combat Between Mordaunt and Fenwick, publ. in Surry of Eagle’s-Nest c. 1866. Wood engraving on beige wove paper, sheet: 18.8 x 12.4 cm. The Clark, 1955.4453C

Homer’s career as a commercial illustrator was in full bloom when he was tasked with illustrating John Esten Cooke’s novel Surry of Eagle’s-Nest; or The Memoirs of a Staff-Officer Serving in Virginia, a gripping and romantic tale of the Civil War.

A native of Virginia, Cooke was a voracious consumer of the popular literature of his day—including works by Sir Walter Scott, Washington Irving, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, initially with the 1st Company Richmond Artillery, and later as an aid to cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart. Surry of Eagle’s-Nest draws on his war experiences as well as his taste for romantic literature, and his post-war novels strive to reconcile the gritty reality of Civil War combat with the swashbuckling chivalry of Ivanhoe and Rob Roy.

This same attempt at reconciliation is, to a certain extent, visible in Homer’s illustrations. Gone are the large-scale depictions of hectic battle sequences found in Homer’s work for Harper’s Weekly. Instead, his illustrations for Surry of Eagle’s-Nest feature sabres, plumed hats, and capes. If the caption to Gen. Jackson’s Escape were deleted, the illustration could be used in any number of Romantic war novels. These illustrations are more cavalier, in every sense of the word, than the majority of Homer’s Civil War work.

The collaboration of a New York-based artist and a Virginian novelist the year after the Treaty of Appomattox was signed shows just how swiftly some elements of reunification proceeded. However, the fact that a novel that unrepentantly glorified the Confederacy was immensely popular all over the country is in turn a testament to how slowly other aspects of reunification progressed.


After Winslow Homer, Gen. Jackson’s Escape publ. in Surry of Eagle’s-Nest c. 1866. Wood engraving on beige wove paper, image: 8.9 x 12.1 cm. The Clark, 1955.4453B

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By John Boudreau, Communications Intern

This summer, the Clark’s blog will feature a variety of posts featuring our two new exhibitions, Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History, and George Inness: Gifts from Frank and Katherine Martucci. We’ll ask staff members to pick their favorite paintings and fill you in on some lesser-known stories behind the artists and their art. Today, we’re focusing on Harper’s Weekly, a newspaper that published scores of Winslow Homer’s illustrations early in his career.

The well-informed citizen in nineteenth-century America would rarely have been caught without a copy of Harper’s Weekly, for which Winslow Homer regularly provided illustrations throughout the Civil War. For the average reader, a publication like Harper’s was indispensable—akin to a modern-day Craigslist, Huffington Post, and Tumblr rolled into one.


After Winslow Homer, The War–Making Havelocks for the Volunteers publ. in Harper’s Weekly 29 June 1861. Wood engraving on newsprint, Sheet 40.6 cm x 28.4 cm. The Clark, 1955.1496

In the pre-television era, newspapers like Harper’s Weekly were not only the most reliable source of information, but virtually the only source of information. Interestingly, the New York-based paper circulated in both the Union and in the Confederacy throughout the Civil War.

Harper’s wide circulation meant that a cover illustration was not only prestigious, but also a good advertisement for the artist himself, something the shrewd Homer would have no doubt appreciated. Cover illustrations like The War—Making Havelocks for the Volunteers, which Homer made for the June 29, 1861 edition of the magazine, have Homer’s name prominently displayed in the lower right-hand corner of the print, broadcasting the artist’s talent to anyone who glanced at the cover. In a time before widespread photography, Homer was the equivalent of the photojournalist of his day.

Inside this edition of the magazine, the two-month-old Civil War was the focus of most of the news. An item entitled “Evacuation of Harper’s Ferry” discussed the recent retreat of a garrison of soldiers to Manassas Junction, Virginia, “where no doubt a grand stand will be made.” The  first battle of Manassas (also known as the First Battle of  Bull Run) would happen a month later. A poem entitled “Thirteen and Thirty-Four” offered some patriotic encouragement to Union soldiers: “Strike for the 34! Country and Home restore!” (There were thirty-four states in the Union when the war broke out in 1861.)

Harper’s didn’t limit itself to war coverage. This issue also contained humor columns, international news, and less patriotic poetry, as well as a range of advertisements. Not bad for a paper that cost six cents.

Speaking of newspapers, The Clark has brought them back to downtown Williamstown as of today. EXTRA!, located at 73 Spring Street in Williamstown, sells a variety of national and international news media in a laid-back and comfortable community atmosphere—equal parts reading room and newsstand. While there won’t be anything available for six cents, it can’t hurt to stop by and take a look!

Also, for those wondering what a havelock is, it’s a piece of cloth attached to the back of a soldier’s hat that protects the neck from the sun. Who knew?

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