The Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11-15, 1862) was – like all major battles during the conflict – reported in the newspapers. In the North, Harper’s Weekly famously published engravings of battles, leaders, and military life. (For more details about Fredericksburg, please view last week’s post here.)
Here are a few of the newspaper engravings that accompanied the news of the Fredericksburg’s battle:
Caption: An Army Train
Caption: Building The Bridge At Fredericksburg
Caption: Sumner’s Grand Division Crossing The Rappahannock
Caption: Franklin’s Grand Division Crossing The Rahppahannock
Caption: The Assault Upon Maryes Heights
Caption: Franklin’s Division Recrossing The Rappahannock
Capturing A Union Perspective
All the of the featured engravings show positions, marches, or the battle from a Union perspective – as would be expected from Northern correspondents and artists. It helps give us a drawn “snapshot” of what this battle might have looked like from the distance. They give a distant look at the fighting, suggesting that the artists didn’t cross the river with the Union troops to make the attacks. Rather, we see the landscape, the crossings, the assault in the far distance (with the town in the foreground), and then the retreat back across the river.
The images present a “clean” image of the battle. Distant. Yet – in my opinion – the crossing and recrossing images alone present the story of the battle, simplified.
Writers and artists traveled along with the Civil War armies, preparing articles, reports, anecdotes, and illustrations for the newspapers. Northern papers were more comprehensive in their facts (and badly reported rumors), especially as the war went on and manpower and paper became scarce in the South.
Some war correspondents were sent out by specific publications, others were more independent, willing to report or draw and sell their work. Some officers welcomed the reporters, others saw them as a nuisance.
Ironically, soldiers wrote home asking what the papers said about the military actions in general. Often times, the homefront had more accurate (or at least abundant rumors) than the common soldiers.
These images of Fredericksburg would have been the Northern images of the battle. Though accurate in some respects and useful to historians, the sketches failed to convey the detailed tragedy and bloodbath at the battle. However, the publication of casualty lists would test and deny the “clean” and distant images.
P.S. Did you like the visual sources? Would you like to see more posts like this in the future?