Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory

Normally, histories of the Civil War focus on events and personalities and illustrate their fact-laden texts with photographs or works of art from the period. Not so in MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY, an apt title for a book in which the visual record is revealed as a way in which history was recorded and interpreted. The authors have gathered primarily paintings by artists who worked in the fifty-year postbellum period in order to examine their aesthetic intentions and to see what impact their works had on the public. The authors do not intend a history of the individual artist’s careers; instead they seek to explain how the collected artistic vision of these men and women influenced not so much the historiography of the Civil War but rather how ordinary Americans remembered the war. Obviously, both sides of the conflict required an art after the fact that would depict its leaders or soldiers in the most heroic light. So-called Union paintings naturally would emphasize the inevitability of victory and the glory of the struggle, while the unreconstructed Confederate patrons demanded an art in which suffering and death are much more evident. Yet both sides preferred the depiction of the war as a bloody crucible in which men and women were nobly tested. The common soldier was not forgotten, however, and many works of art seem to be accurate records of army life: waiting for mail, tending the wounded, and building encampments, for example.

With 280 color illustrations, MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY is in itself a valuable collection of works of art. Many of these works have never before been published, and the authors are to be congratulated for their assiduous research in museums and libraries to locate them. They also deserve praise for the presentation of a visual archive that reveals how Americans turned away from memories of the unprecedented carnage of the Civil War to demand romantic, idealized images of what they perceived as its glory.