“The cartoon-like dramatizations of Civil War combat took the nation by storm and were snapped up by veterans and civilians eager to revel in the nostalgia of the bygone conflict.”
EARLY PHOTOGRAPHERS LIKE Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner may have provided a photographic record of the U.S. Civil War, but it was the dazzling, full-colour battlefield lithographs mass-produced by Louis Kurz and Alexander Allison that would capture the imagination of the American public in the years after the conflict.
The iconic series of images depicting key moments of the war were produced at the duo’s Chicago printing factory throughout the 1880s. The cartoon-like dramatizations of Civil War combat took the nation by storm and were snapped up by veterans and civilians eager to revel in the nostalgia of the bygone conflict.
Chromolithography, the process by which the illustrations were rendered, was a revolutionary printing process in the 19th century. Although publishers had long since been able to mass-produce monochrome images using black ink, this new method involved applying separate colours to a printed image in rapid succession using not just one, but a series of printing plates. Chromolithographic techniques enabled industrial printers to crank out full-colour reproductions of paintings by the thousands (millions even). It was a prospect that horrified art purists, but delighted ordinary folks who lacked the means to collect original works.
Kurz, an Austrian immigrant and himself a veteran of the war, released his first painting in the Civil War series in 1884 — A depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg. The work was a runaway commercial success. Over the next several years, he and Allison churned out copies of 35 other original battlefield illustrations and later offered their takes on the 1898 Spanish American War and even the fighting between Japan and Russia in 1904 and 1905.
(Originally published in MilitaryHistoryNow.com in 2014)