Remembering Those Who Served
After the war families and towns began commissioning artists to make monuments to soldiers who had fought and died, a practice that continued through the end of the nineteenth century. In addition, the United States government established national memorial cemeteries at the sites of major Civil War battles, such as Antietam, Gettysburg, and Chickamauga. These cemeteries are full of monuments and sculptures honoring those who served, both well-known and regular soldiers.
Military generals were frequently the subject of monuments and other works of art because they were seen as heroes in the story of the Civil War. Decades after the war ended, monuments honoring these individuals were placed in public spaces in both the North and the South. In the North, General (later President) Ulysses S. Grant, was revered for leading troops to victory at Vicksburg (which gave the Union control of the Mississippi River) and for his determined and overwhelming push to final victory in Virginia in 1864–65. The colossal equestrian statue of him in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial created in 1891, suggests how important his memory was in the years after his death in 1885.
Citizens of Chicago also honored Union Generals John A. Logan and Philip H. Sheridan with monumental equestrian statues. The John Alexander Logan Monument was dedicated in 1897, and the General Philip Henry Sheridan Monument was dedicated in 1923. Statues like these expressed virtues such as leadership and duty, and provided dramatic, literal models for later generations. Organizations comprised of veterans and their relatives, such as the Grand Army of the Republic, actively celebrated war-time service. In the decades following the war, they established monuments, held memorial events, and were politically influential as well.
Some of the most moving artworks meant as reminders of the Civil War are not necessarily the grandest. The title of Winslow Homer's 1865 print, Our Watering Places—The Empty Sleeve at Newport, does not directly refer to the Civil War, but instead to one of its significant consequences for soldiers: the loss of limbs. The majority of Civil War amputees refused prosthetic replacement limbs, making empty sleeves a common sight after the war ended. The sacrifices of amputees were celebrated, with one popular song’s lyrics stating: “That empty sleeve, it is a badge / Of bravery and of honor; / It whispers of the dear old flag, / And tells who sav’d our banner.”
Lilly Martin Spencer’s painting The Home of the Red, White, and Blue (c. 1867–1868) depicts a wounded soldier and his family at home as a way of addressing the aftermath of the war and the important role women played in restoring the nation.
The Civil War produced thousands of widows, both in the North and South, who struggled to move forward without loved ones who died in the war. It became commonplace for artists to portray these women and their losses as honorable, personal sacrifices. Constant Mayer's painting Love’s Melancholy, is one such example. Quiet pictures like this allude to painful memories and to the fact that people had been greatly changed by the war.