On April 12, 1861, the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, beginning the American Civil War, a conflagration which raged for almost exactly four years before, on April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. The Civil War, as much as the American Revolution, was a defining event in American history, and this conflict has always figured large in the awareness of the American public.
The 150th anniversary of the Civil War will generate renewed interest in the war, with many events, texts, and other media pouring forth this year. As I am particularly interested in historical prints, I have always been a student of contemporary prints of the Civil War. Thus, I have decided to jump on the bandwagon and produce a section of our web site which will specifically consider how the war was pictured in contemporary printed images. This section of our site is called A Nation Divided.
The Civil War took place at a time when two significant historical trends combined to make the relevance of prints particularly important. First was the development, in the nineteenth century, of a growing percentage of the American population which both was literate and had an interest in and the wealth to afford books, magazines, newspapers, and prints for the home. The other trend was the development of printmaking processes that allowed for the relatively inexpensive production of large numbers of printed pictures and maps.
So, a century and a half ago, as the United States made its inevitable way towards the cataclysm which would tear the nation apart, these important historical trends made it so that printed images would become one of, if not the most important means by which the general public would follow the war. Thousands of portraits of political and military leaders, patriotic and partisan images, and scenes of the events and places of the war were printed and disseminated around the country (mostly in the North), providing many Americans with much of their understanding of what was going on in the war. These printed images provided one of the main threads in the fabric of Americans' lives from 1861 to 1865.
Thus it is that I believe the study of contemporary printed images of the Civil War is crucial to gain insight into that traumatic event in our nation's history. Not only do these pictures show us today what those people, places and events looked like (although not by any means always accurately), but also it is only through an awareness of these prints that we can gain any true understanding as to how Americans of the time saw the war.
An important part of the intent of this section of our web site is that it be a useful reference source for those interested in the topic, exploring the history, nature and impact of contemporary printed images of the Civil War. We will put up pages on general topics, such as portraits, cartoons, etc., but a main part of the web site will be a monthly account of the events of the war 150 years ago, with a consideration of the prints showing those events.
This web site is also, of course, intended as a sales tool for our shop. Thus we will include images and descriptions of prints and maps we have in our inventory, along with images which are important to the topic at hand, even if we do not have them for sale.
I welcome comments and corrections. As an historian and printseller, there are few subjects as important to my work and the shop as the prints of the Civil War. I would love to spread knowledge of and interest in this fascinating subject.