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A Nation Divided.  The Civil War in contemporary prints
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Civil War images of Blacks

[ Illustrated newspapers | Kurz & Allison | "Contraband" ]


Prints from illustrated newspapers

Illustrated newspapers, filled with wood-engraved illustrations, made their appearance in American in the 1850s, becoming one of the primary sources for the American public of images of their world. The situation of blacks in America was a prominent topic both during and after the Civil War, and so many images of African-Americans appeared in these newspapers, the most famous of which was Harper's Weekly. These prints inform us both of what was happening and how Americans viewed this topic.

All the following prints are uncolored wood engravings, in very good condition, except as noted.

Kurz and Allison

The Chicago firm of Kurz & Allison is well known for its production of commemorative prints of American historical scenes. Founded in 1880, the firm's avowed purpose was to design "for large scale establishments of all kinds, and in originating and placing on the market artistic and fancy prints of the most elaborate workmanship." Elaborate they certainly were- the majority of their prints being bright and dramatic, with action throughout the image. Drawn in a broad, graphic style that developed from Kurz's background as a muralist, these prints have a striking appearance that makes them not only interesting historical images but also excellent decorative prints. Of note is the fact that the Kurz & Allison prints are some of the only Civil War battle prints to prominently feature the role of the African-American troops.

All approx. 21 x 28. Chromolithographs. Very good condition, except as noted.


On May 23rd, three slaves--Shepard Mallory, Frank Baker, and James Townsend--escaped to the Union's Fort Monroe. They had been sent by their owner to work on the Confederate battlements at Sewell's Point and they soon took an opportunity to row at night across Hampton Roads, where they were then taken to the fort's commander, General Benjamin Butler. According to the Fugitive Slave Law, Butler should have returned the slaves to their owner. However, not only was their owner in rebellion against the United States, but the slaves had been working at building fortifications to threaten his command. Thus Butler argued that with Virginia's secession there was no longer a legal obligation to return the slaves and that he would seize them as "contraband of war."

Though Lincoln had been insisting that he was not threatening slavery in the South, he accepted Butler's argument and let the ruling stand; from thence forward, any slaves escaping to the North were accepted as "contraband." This had a profound impact on the war. When slaves in the South heard about this, they were encouraged to escape, and these runaways--numbering perhaps half a million--became a major source for manpower that were used by the Union Army both for workers and later for soldiers.

Contrabands in Union Army
"'Work's Over'-Scenes Among the Beaufort Contrabands." From Harper's Weekly. New York, December 21, 1861. Cover illustration, 9 x 10 1/2. Wood engraving. Light waterstains in corners. Very good condition.

A fascinating collage of images showing the "contrabands" once they have escaped to the Union side. The central image is of a happy encampment of ex-slaves enjoying the end of the day. While a number of women are show still doing laundry, the majority are relaxed and chatting while the children roughhouse and dance. It goes out saying that this image was intended as a sharp contrast to their lives before they escaped. $40

"Contrabands coming into Fortress Monroe." Ca. 1865. Wood engraving by Adrian-Probasco. 4 x 6. Very good condition. $35


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