How did Americans learn about the Civil War through art, and how can we learn about the war today? During the war, people used art to gain news about individuals and events. They also used the prints, paintings, photographs, and sculptures made during and after the war to remember and understand the most deadly conflict in American history. This section discusses how the artworks on this website illustrate major themes relating to both the history of the war and art making.

Causes of the War

What do works of art reveal about the deep divisions that led to the Civil War? Artists captured the many issues that divided the nation, from the abolitionist movement to the booming cotton economy. This section focuses on the several ways in which the question of slavery brought the country to its breaking point. It also addresses the passionate political conflicts that led to war, including the secession of the South and the contested lands in the West.

The Military Experience

What can works of art teach us about the lives and experiences of the soldiers, nurses, doctors, and others who participated in the Civil War? Thanks to the development photography as well as the mass production of illustrated newspapers, people had access to realistic images of war for one of the first times. This section addresses life on the battlefront and ways in which it was depicted and recorded.

Emancipation and the Meaning of Freedom

How did artists represent the end of slavery and the impact of freedom? As the Civil War progressed, military leaders began liberating enslaved African Americans as part of their fight against the Confederacy. This section explores how black men fought in the war by joining the segregated United States Colored Troops. In 1863 President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, ending slavery in the rebelling South. The legacy of emancipation is depicted in several works made during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

The Northern Homefront

What can images produced during the Civil War tell us about life beyond the battlefield in the North? The Civil War changed the ways that women and families went about their work and daily lives. These new ways of work and life included supplying the Union army. The section also discusses the incarceration of Confederate soldiers in Union prison camps. Finally, it examines the wider impact of war-related deaths in the North.


What can art show us about President Abraham Lincoln’s life and legacy? This section illustrates how Lincoln’s image was used in the news, in politics, as a commodity, and as a way to commemorate his life. After Lincoln’s death, the American public remembered and honored their president through prints, portraits, photographs, and monuments. This section also discusses how images of Lincoln changed as ideas about him evolved.

Remembering the Civil War

How did Americans honor the efforts and lives of those who fought in the Civil War? The works of art in this section focus on the sense of loss and the shifting national identity that were part of the post-Civil War American experience. This section also addresses the variety of ways in which Lincoln was represented in the months and years after his death.