Union Officer On Horseback with Pig

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Union Officer On Horseback with Pig

By Ellen Regan

Everyday the American media barrages its readership with thousands of images. From the latest shots of the hottest celebrity gossip to that of a flag covered casket of a fallen soldier, each image tells the narrative of history through the language of its pictorial journalism that the written word cannot convey. The prominence of the image in the visual history of America and its ability to influence the way in which its viewer perceives the events of history traces back to mid- 19th century antebellum America with birth of the illustrated newspaper. Leslie's Illustrated, one of the most popular illustrated newspapers in the United States, innovatively introduced the art of  "sensationalism into journalism"[1] through the use of engravings. A mere five years after the founding of one of America's first illustrated newspapers, the outbreak of the Civil War in the spring of 1861 proved to be a significant turning point in American media. Unlike other newspapers, Frank Leslie's news coverage of the Civil War dynamically combined journalistic reports with visually stimulating engravings to appeal to the mass readership. Consequently, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper forever changed the mode by which the American people experience and remember the events of history.

The infiltration of illustrations into journalism altered not only the means of communication for the American media but also the journalism itself. The widespread popularity of the illustrated newspaper showed how this form of media became more of a means of entertainment for the reader throughout the war. With sensationalism as one of his main motivations, Frank Leslie enlisted his artists and correspondents to capture the events ranging from the sufferings on the battlefields to the pass times of camp life in order to immediately report the dramatic essence of the war's events for the readers back at home. Thus, for the illustrated newspaper, the communicative emphasis relies more so on the visual aspects that ensure the instant interest of the reader rather than on the quality of its journalism. Although the "idealized, restricted view" of the articles failed to provide the reader with the most accurate reports of the war's events, when coupled with thrilling engraved illustrations, the articles in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper did provide a story.[2]

With the images having such importance, Frank Leslie's illustrators, more commonly known as the "special artists", became the first hand, eyewitness reporters retelling the narrative of the Civil War. Their drawings were a means of conveying ideas that the correspondents' words failed to communicate. The illustrators' mark making systems and compositions became their vocabulary for spreading the news of the war. The illustrations within Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper ranged from full spread romanticized depictions of battles proclaiming victories, devastating scenes of massive bloodshed and death, to less prominent illustrations resembling a series of cartoons intended for comic relief. The illustrations' lofty portrayals of the array of intense emotions in war played on the hearts of the readers while oftentimes effecting their perceptions and opinions of the issues behind the bloodshed.

With Frank Leslie's newspaper favoring the cause of the Union more so than that of the Confederates, many of the engravings took on the form of propaganda. This is particularly apparent in the portrayal of the Union officers themselves. Oftentimes, the artists focused on drawing the scenes of war that emphasized the heroic qualities of the Union officers and their victories over the Confederates.  As the heroes of the story, the Union officers were often depicted in their gallant efforts of slaying the Confederate traitors in battle, dashingly leading their troops onto victory through difficult terrain, among other images, all for the cause of freedom (see fig. 1). Additionally, Leslie's artists often made formal portraits of the Union officers to accompany articles about their campaigns while Confederate officers were rarely depicted so prominently (see fig. 2). Through these portraits, the readers of Frank Leslie's came to know and admire the Union officers within these major campaigns as one does the protagonists of an adventure story. Together, many of the engravings depicting the victories and valor of the Union officers and their troops published in Leslie's newspaper increased the support of the Union's cause amongst the readers.

As the image of the Union officer increasingly became an icon for the Northern cause, the particularly unusual illustration of A Union Officer on Horseback with Pig from the Becker Collection depicts a very interesting message about Union officers (see fig.3). The scene seems to depict an officer with his booty after a foraging expedition. Foraging was among the most successful and controversial tactics of the armies during the Civil War. Prior to the twentieth century, there were only two basic methods for feeding armies: foraging or the utilization of depots.[3] Among the multiple instances of foraging during the Civil War, one of the most famous implementations was that of Union General William T. Sherman's 1864 March to the Sea from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia, also known as The Savannah Campaign.  In efforts to sweep across the South and defeat the Confederates quickly and efficiently, General Sherman was forced to "cut himself off completely from his base in Savannah; hence he could expect no government supplies until he reached the Cape Fear River in North Carolina". [4] In order to feed his army of sixty thousand men, Sherman was forced to order foraging of the land:

The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party, under the command of one or more discreet officers, who will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal, or whatever is needed by the command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten day's provisions for the command and three days' forage. [5]

These "discreet officers" commanded their foot soldiers, or in the case of Sherman's army, "Bummers", who wore shabby, ragamuffin civilian clothing and oftentimes acted in an unruly manner. Whatever horses they acquired replaced their "jaded train" [6]of cavalry that became the pack animals for the provisions. To sustain an army, or replenish the cavalry, foraging was used throughout the Civil War as a successful tactic that contributed to the eventual Union victory.

However, as with most war tactics, foraging was not always a success for the Union army. For instance, though Sherman was obligated to mandate foraging for the welfare of his army, in order to regulate the potential abuses of the "right to foraging"[7] he was also obliged to order very strict regulations. Yet, with wide interpretations of these orders, many of the foraging parties degenerated into unrestricted bands of thieves, representing nothing of their supposed cause of freedom: "Soldiers committed trespass on private dwellings and farms," a southern historian reports, "used abusive or threatening language especially to the women folk left at home, and often did not leave the family enough food for to sustain themselves" (see fig. 4)[8].  Though these atrocities against civilians and their property were very common throughout the Union Army's history, rarely did Frank Leslie's Illustrated News, or other contemporary news sources, include these events so as not to taint the readership's view of the Union army and their efforts.

Frank Leslie's depicted scenes of foraging most often during the last two years of the war. The engravings of foraging depicted lively scenes of Sherman's "Bummers" or other foraging parties hastily ransacking the loot from farms (see fig. 5).  As previously mentioned, the less animated or compositionally congested drawing of A Union Officer on Horseback with Pig seems to place this event after one of these foraging scenes, where the officer or one of his foraging foot soldiers acquired a squealing pig. Because the commanding officers rarely participated directly in the foraging, it is highly unusual to have a Union officer in full uniform appear riding such an exhausted horse as is depicted in this drawing.  Nevertheless, many officers still reaped the material benefits from foraging. In a letter to his wife, Lieutenant Thomas J. Myers of the Union Army told of the extent of an officer's transgression against the rules of foraging:

 Officers are not allowed to join in these expeditions, unless disguised as privates. One of our corps commanders borrowed a rough suit of clothes from one of my men, and was successful in his place. He got a large quantity of silver (among other things an old milk pitcher), and a very fine gold watch from a Mr. DeSaussure, of this place (Columbia). DeSaussure is one of the F. F. V.'s of South Carolina, and was made to fork out liberally.[9]

Due to such conduct, many who had first hand observations of the war, including some of Frank Leslie's illustrators, developed a negative view of some of the officers. Such a view contrasted with the positive opinions based on ideas of heroism and gallantry that many Frank Leslie's readers enjoyed. Thus, because the drawing of A Union Officer on Horseback with Pig greatly differs from the popular iconic image of the Union Officer as the hero of justice and freedom, the artist's unusual portrayal of a Union Officer raises many questions.

In efforts to discern the artists' underlying message, the viewer can compare the message of another foraging scene titled Foraging- The Slaughter of the Innocents by Frank Leslie's "special artist" Henri Lovie (see fig. 4). Strictly referring to subject matter, the scene in Foraging- The Slaughter of the Innocents appears chaotic with so much flapping of wings and snatching of loot. It also promotes anxiety especially through the distraught poses and facial expressions of the female figures in the door and window openings of the dwelling depicted on the left. In addition to the visual information of the subject matter, the textual information in the title most likely referred to the famous biblical Slaughter of the Innocents from the Gospel of Matthew where not farm animals, but baby boys were killed. Thus, either the artist was trying to call attention to the serious crime of foraging by equating the slaughtering of human life to that of livestock, or the sketch is meant to be a satirical statement about foraging in the face of negative critique about the tactic by treating it as a mildly harmful and all together necessary device in war.

Along with other drawings of foraging scenes, many drawings from the Becker Collection with similarly controversial subject matter such as those by special artists Edward F. Mullen and Henri Lovie, add to the art historical understanding of A Union Officer on Horseback with Pig. Particularly, Mullen's Drumming Out A Coward Officer (see fig. 5) has both similar visual elements and subject matter with its transparent forms, precise, thin lines, and also, its portrayal of an officer in a controversial scene. Along with Mullen's drawings, the drawings depicting foraging scenes by Henri Lovie (see fig. 4 and fig. 6) were used frequently in Frank Leslie's and are some of the most popular images used for the portrayal of foraging in Civil War history.

Despite these similarities within the Becker Collection itself, the most similar comparison can be made with an illustration of one Sherman's Bummers from Major George Ward Nichols' The Story of The Great March From the Diary of A Staff Officer (see fig. 7).  With its singular composition, amount of negative space, jaded horse, and pig, amongst other visual similarities, this illustration most relates to A Union Officer on Horseback with Pig:

The scene is frequently exhilarating. The "bummer", coming in on horseback, holding the bridle in his teeth, class under one arm a basket of fresh eggs, and under the other a [pailful] of delicious honey, while a brace of fat sheep, hams, chickens, and geese lie across the saddle in front and rear, and the carcass of a hog, firmly tied the mule's tail dragged along the road.[10]

With the numerous visual similarities, and the fact that Harpers and Brothers Publishing published Major Nichols' book along with Harper's Weekly, another prominent illustrated newspaper during the Civil War, this drawing could very well be from Harper's Weekly and not from Frank Leslie's.

With this in mind, the sketch of A Union Officer on Horseback with Pig appears as more of a satirical statement about a Union officer's involvement in foraging rather than a sentimental plea for the life of the captured pig. Therefore, this drawing was most likely not published in Frank Leslie's because it caricatured the idealized Union officer rather than promoting his ability to forage off the land. Used or not, this highly unusual depiction of a Union officer is historically significant in adding to the greater understanding of Frank Leslie's, foraging, and the still unresolved issues of the Civil War.

 

Appendix

Fig. 1

Fig.1. General Sheridan Riding Along the Lines of the Federal Army, After The Battle of Fisher's Hill, VA. from Frank Leslie's The Soldier In Our Civil War, 1893 webgarrison.com, April 29, 2009

Fig. 2

Fig. 2.  Officer Portrait Gallery from Frank Leslie's The Soldier In Our Civil War, 1893 webgarrison.com, April 29, 2009

Fig. 3

Fig. 3. Union Officer on Horseback with Pig from First Hand Civil War Era Drawings idesweb.bc.edu, April 29, 2009

Fig. 4

Fig. 4 Foraging - The Slaughter of the Innoncents from First Hand Civil War Era Drawings idesweb.bc.edu, April 30, 2009

Fig. 5

Fig. 5 - Drumming Out A Coward Officer from First Hand Civil War Era Drawings idesweb.bc.edu, April 30, 2009

Fig. 6

Fig. 6 - Foraging Secesh Oats from First Hand Civil War Era Drawings idesweb.bc.edu, April 30, 2009

Fig. 7

Fig. 7 - The Bummer from Major George Ward Nichols' The Story of The Great March from the Diary of A Staff Officer, 1865. April 20, 2009

 

Bibliography

"A Southern View of History, The War for Southern Independence, "The Other Side of The Coin"". John K. McNeil Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans.2007. April 2009. http://www.scv674.org/SH-Table.htm

Baptist, Edward E. "The Lines are Drawn: Political Cartoons of the Civil War." Civil War History 46.2 (2000): 173-5.

Baptist,. "The Lines are Drawn: Political Cartoons of the Civil War." Civil War history 46.2 (2000): 173. .

Barrett, John Glichrist. The Civil War in North Carolina. NC: UNC Publishing, 1995, Pg. 293

Brown, Joshua. Beyond the Lines: Pictoral Reporting, Everyday Life, and the Crisis of

Gilded-age America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002, Pp.39

Bunker, Gary L. "The 'Comic News,' Lincoln, and the Civil War." Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 17.1 (1996): 53-87.

Cook, Robert. "Lines of Contention: Political Cartoons of the Civil War." H-Net Reviews in the Humanities & Social Sciences Jun (2008).

DeLatte, Carolyn E. "The Lines are Drawn: Political Cartoons of the Civil War." Louisiana History 42.2 (2001): 227-8.

Kent, Christopher. "War Cartooned/cartoon War: Matt Morgan and the American Civil War in 'Fun' and 'Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper'." Victorian Periodicals Review 36.2 (2003): 153-81.

Kuhn, Martin. "Drawing Civil War Soldiers: Volunteers and the Draft in 'Harper's Weekly' and 'Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper,' 1861-64." Journalism History 32.2 (2006): 96-105.

Levine, Bruce. "Forever in Struggle." Reviews in American History 34.1 (2006): 46-56.

Lewis, J.G. Witness to the Civil War. Irvington, NY: Hydra Publishing, 2006, Pg. IX

Maurer, Oscar. "'Punch' on Slavery and Civil War in America, 1841-65." Victorian Studies 1.1 (1957): 5-28.

Peterson, John M. "Forgotten Kansas Artist: Adam Rohe." Kansas History 17.4 (1994): 220-35.

Reaves, Wendy Wick. "Thomas Nast and the President." American Art Journal 19.1 (1987): 60-71.

Reynolds, Robert L. "A Man of Conscience." American Heritage 14.2 (1963): 20.

"Sherman's Special Field Orders, No.120".  Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. February 2009. February 2007. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sherman's_Special_Field_Orders,_No._120, Pp. IV

"Strategic Supply of Civil War Armies". Members.cox. Date Unknown. March 30, 2009. http://members.cox.net/rb2307/content/STRATEGIC_SUPPLY_OF_CIVIL_WAR_ARMIES.htm, Pp. II

"The Carolina's Campaign: Death to all Foragers". Wade Hampton Camp. Date Unknown. April 27, 2009. http://www.wadehamptoncamp.org/hist-hvs.html

Thompson, William Fletcher, Jr. "Pictorial Propaganda and the Civil War." Wisconsin Magazine of History 46.1 (1962): 21-31.

Unsigned. "A Portfolio of Cartoons by a Confederate Prisoner." Civil War Times Illustrated 5.3 (1966): 32-3.

Vinson, J. C. "Thomas Nast and the American Political Scene." American Quarterly 9.3 (1957): 337-44.

 


[1] Lewis, J.G. Witness to the Civil War. Irvington, NY: Hydra Publishing, 2006, Pg. IX

[2] Brown, Joshua. Beyond the Lines: Pictoral Reporting, Everyday Life, and the Crisis of Gilded-age America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002, p.39

[3] "Strategic Supply of Civil War Armies". Members.cox. Date Unknown. March 30, 2009. http://members.cox.net/rb2307/content/STRATEGIC_SUPPLY_OF_CIVIL_WAR_ARMIES.htm, Pp. II

[4] Barrett, John Glichrist. The Civil War in North Carolina. NC: UNC Publishing, 1995, Pg. 293

[5] "Sherman's Special Field Orders, No.120".  Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. February 2009. February 2007. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sherman's_Special_Field_Orders,_No._120, Pp. IV

[6] Ibid, Pp. IV

[7] "The Carolina's Campaign: Death to all Foragers". Wade Hampton Camp. Date Unknown. April 27, 2009. http://www.wadehamptoncamp.org/hist-hvs.html

[8] "A Southern View of History, The War for Southern Independence, "The Other Side of The Coin"". John K. McNeil Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans.2007. April 2009. http://www.scv674.org/SH-Table.htm

[9] Ibid

[10] Nichols, Major George Ward. The Story of The Great March: From the Diary of A Staff Officer. New York: Harpers & Brothers, Publishers, 1865, p.242