Sunday, April 28, 2013

Book Review--Civil War Sketch Book

Katz, Harry L. and Vincent Virga. Civil War Sketch Book: Drawings from the Battlefront. W.W. Norton, New York. Index, notes, b/w photos. 251 pages. ISBN 9780393072204, $50.

This book has a lot going for it. Size: an art book should be of large size like this making it easy to see the reproductions.  Don't even think of trying to buy this for a Kindle or Nook. Quality printing, paper, and binding--This is a well made book with good heavy paper and a strong binding. Price--OK the original cover price is kind of high BUT take a quick click on the link above and find a bargain price on Amazon. Quality authors--Harry Katz is former head curator at the Library of Congress and Vincent Virga has authored several impressive works himself.

In an era before every pre-teen with a cell phone could snap photos newspapers employed men known as "Special Artists" to help bring the action home to readers. Papers such as Frank Leslie's Illustrated News and Harper's Weekly would employ artists such as Frank Vizitelly, Edwin Forbes, Winslow Homer, Thomas Nast, Arthur Lumley and many others to bring the sights of war to their readers. For those who expected this to be a quick and easy war the scenes produced by the Specials proved beyond a doubt that there was going to be a large amount of blood spilled before all was said and done.

Many times you will find these prints having been removed from the newspapers available for sale in antique shops and flea markets. What separates this book however is that in the majority of instances you are seeing reproduction of the original work and not the newspaper. Included you will find works from the more famous battles such as Antietam and Gettysburg but also lesser known fights such as Fair Oaks.

For those interested in the portrayal of blacks whether enslaved, newly emancipated, or free there are works here to amaze you. The emphasis is on the war itself and not personal stories or home life so this is not a prominent theme however.

In showing that journalism has not changed all that much the artists certainly created propaganda pieces such as that shown on page 100; Southern Chivalry Dedicated to Jeff Davis. This piece by Thomas Nast features many negative images of southerners including a Confederate soldier having beheaded a Union soldier at Bull Run, Confederates throwing wounded Union men in the road to die, southern women  gloating over Union dead, the killing of negroes at Muffreesboro Pike and more. This piece from the February 7, 1863 Harper's Weekly would have been certain to stir emotion and support for Union troops.

This is a beautiful book with excellent text included and is highly recommended. Just a warning however: if you aren't careful you can spend several hours looking at the wonderful art inside.

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