But this war will not consent to be viewed simply as a physical contest. It is not for this that the nation is in solemn procession about the graves of its patriotic sons today. It was not a fight between rapacious birds and ferocious beasts, a mere display of brute courage and endurance, but it was a war between men, men of thought as well as action, and in dead earnest for something beyond the battlefield.
--Frederick Douglass, “Speech Delivered in Madison Square, New York, Decoration Day, 1878”
After the Civil War Americans worked hard to remember and honor the sacrifices that were made. Memories differed widely, however, depending on who was remembering, where he or she lived, and when those recollections occurred. The way a soldier remembered the war was different from the way a child who had lost a father, or a nurse who cared for wounded soldiers in an army hospital, or a former slave, remembered it. Northerners and Southerners, not surprisingly, had very different memories of the war and different ways of discussing it. For instance, some Southerners referred to the Civil War as “The War of Northern Aggression,” while some Northerners referred to it as “The War of the Rebellion.” People from the North and South also developed separate Memorial (or Decoration) Day events to honor those who had served, and African Americans throughout the country founded their own Emancipation Day celebrations to honor the end of slavery.
Across the nation, artists played a key role in these commemorations, for they created objects and images that helped Americans remember the events, people, and ideas that were central to the war and its meaning. Sometimes their artwork was historically accurate; sometimes it was designed instead to support myths and propaganda. Nonetheless, they produced powerful images that often shaped how events were remembered.