Have you ever looked at a painting or sculpture and wondered, “Why was this created?” or “When was this made?” Questions like these remind us that works of art can tell powerful stories about the time and place in which they were made. Art made in response to the American Civil War (1861–1865) is no exception. This website allows us to explore a wide range of images and objects that depict or relate to the war between the Union and the Confederacy—the most deadly war in the history of the United States. Though for many years historians agreed that approximately 620,000 men died in the Civil War, recent scholarship has challenged that consensus. Of the three million soldiers who fought in the conflict, historians now estimate the Civil War’s death toll at 752,000, a figure that emphasizes the staggering human cost of the Civil War. In large portions of the seceded states, homes, farms, and businesses were destroyed by military action. Alongside this massive devastation, however, came the end of slavery, through which four million African Americans escaped or were freed from bondage.
Artists tried to depict the war using a variety of artistic styles and diverse materials, from oil paint to bronze, and from photography to engravings. They also had many different motivations for creating works of art. Some worked to satisfy the demand from civilians for news from the battlefront, others to make a profit, and still others to comprehend the profound experiences and consequences of the war.
People living through the Civil War valued works of art as ways to understand the conflict, celebrate victories and heroes, and grieve their dead and losses. Today, as the works of art collected here show so movingly, these pieces continue to remind us of the power and significance of this momentous time in American history.