Rare Collection of Civil War Drawings Now on Exhibit—But Don't Delay

Images from the front, Civil War style, courtesy National Park Service.

For only the second time in the past 150 years, Civil War buffs have the chance to view a rare collection of original firsthand drawings from that era. The 44 images were made both on and off the battlefield by Joseph Becker and other artist-correspondents, and they're on public display at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in New Hampshire through October 11.

In today's world, we've become accustomed to seeing and hearing first-hand news reports from correspondents "embedded" with troops, but during the Civil War that was a novel idea. Between 1861 and 1865, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper sent Joseph Becker and other artist-correspondents to travel with the Union armies and make drawings of the events they observed.

Often executed in the midst of battle, the drawings are compelling eyewitness records of historical events; they've been described as "some of the most concrete and telling artifacts of the Civil War." The completed works by these "special artists" were sent back to New York, where the drawings were turned into engravings. The engravings, in turn, allowed publication of the images in the newspaper. They accompanied stories from the front and were eagerly awaited by readers.

The sesquicentennial of the Civil War begins in 2011, and as a prelude to that event, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, New Hampshire, is exhibiting a selection of 44 drawings from the Becker Collection, the largest collection of Civil War-era drawings in private hands.

According to the park, "The 44 images in this exhibition are original firsthand drawings done on and off the battlefield by Becker and his colleagues. Conveying information and manifesting a vitality often lost in the engraving and publication process, the drawings are testament to the bravery and skill of the special artists who rendered their experiences and insights in a strong, clear, and aesthetic manner, often under harrowing conditions."

Prior to the Saint-Gaudens exhibition, Civil War drawings from the Becker Collection have been on public display only one other time in the last 150 years; the previous occasion was in 2009 at the McMullen Museum of Fine Art at Boston College. After the Saint-Gaudens exhibit, selections from the Becker Collection will travel to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 2011. If you'd like more information about the Becker Collection, you'll find it here.

The drawings will be on exhibit at Saint-Gaudens NHS for only eight more days--through October 11th. You'll find directions and other information to help plan a visit on the park website, and unless you're already familiar with the route, it would be a good idea to check that information. The park staff advises that GPS software and Internet mapping software is prone to provide inaccurate driving directions to the site.

Changing exhibitions in the Saint-Gaudens NHS Picture Gallery are sponsored annually by the Trustees of the Saint-Gaudens Memorial in cooperation with Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site. The Saint-Gaudens Memorial is a non-profit partner of the National Park Service, helping to support the mission of Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site.