1862: Harper’s Images Of Fredericksburg

I decided to feature something a little different today. As usual in this series, I’m sharing a historical source, but today it’s a visual source instead of a quote.

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.

War Correspondents

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.

Historical Musings

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.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Did you like the visual sources? Would you like to see more posts like this in the future?

2 thoughts on “1862: Harper’s Images Of Fredericksburg

  1. Pingback: Notes On 19th Century Newspapers | Gazette665

  2. Pingback: 1863: “The 2nd Maine Started For Home This Morning” | Gazette665

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