Southern Art & Poetry From the Civil War

Paintings such as this one of the battle between the Merrimack and Monitor brought the Civil War to life.
... Images

The American Civil War, also known as The War Between the States, was fought during the 1860s, a time when romantic art and poetry flourished. Poetry was prominently featured in newspapers and periodicals. War was an ever-present topic that stirred deep emotions among writers and artists, especially in the South. Southerners believed the war was not only about political ideologies and slavery but also involved defense of a pastoral and genteel way of life. Because the war was primarily fought on Southern soil, many Southern poets and artists were both observers and participants in the conflict. Their works speak poignantly of bravery and loyalty, hardship and heartache, loss and despair.

1 Patriotism

At the war’s outset, Southern poets sought to rouse enthusiasm to the Confederate cause. Henry Timrod’s “Ethnogenesis” reminded Southerners of the “noble land” they were fighting for and G.W. Hopkins “Hurrah for the South” was a patriotic cheer. In “The Southern Cross,” E.K. Blunt reminds Southern men “On our side … the God of battles fights!” Conrad Wise Chapman, the only Confederate artist who painted while actively serving, produced proud renderings of the Confederate submarine H.S. Hunley and the strong defenses of Charleston Harbor. B.D. Julio paid homage to generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in “The Heroes of Chancellorsville.”

2 Soldier Life

Confederate soldiers’ musings were shared through poetry of both established and anonymous writers. In “Christmas,” poet Henry Timrod wonders how he can celebrate the holiday while recalling the horrors at the Battle of Shiloh. In “Dreaming in the Trenches,” poet William Gordon McCabe imagines a woman back home and swears his loyalty to her. The unknown author of “Countersign” wonders if he will be ready if and when “the angelic sentries call.” Detailed scenes of Confederate soldier life were sketched by illustrator Frank Viztelly. His “Night Amusements in the Confederate Camp” shows a lighter side of soldier life. A leisurely view of a soldier camp is portrayed in “The 59th Virginia Infantry -- Wise’s Brigade” by Conrad Wise Chapman.

3 Women

Confederate women also used poetry to express their views of the Civil War. In “Song of the Southern Woman,” poet Julia Midred Harriss tells Abraham Lincoln he will be contending with “Joans of Arc” if he threatens Southern households. Alethea S. Burroughs wonders what consolation there is at the war’s conclusion in her poem “They Cry Peace, Peace When There is No Peace.” In art, Confederate women were portrayed as loyal and caring. “The Burial of Latane” by William D. Washington was inspired by the true story of two Southern women who conducted the funeral and burial of a cavalry soldier on their plantation. Women’s volunteer service is illustrated in the painting “In the Hospital, 1861” by Confederate soldier William Ludwell Sheppard.

4 Death and Destruction

Southern poets and artists had no shortage of material to draw from when illustrating the horror of war. The poem “Only One Killed” by Julia L. Keyes describes a battle where only one man was lost, but this one man was a son, husband and father-to-be. The tremendous loss of life that marked battlefields across the South is described in the poem “Virginia’s Dead” by Cornelia J.M. Jordan. The art of photography produced vivid images of the war’s death toll and destruction in the South. Photographer Alexander Gardner’s “Photographic Sketchbook of the War” shows in unflinching detail the Confederate dead at Antietam and documents the destruction Union General William Tecumseh Sherman left in his wake as he made his infamous march to the sea.

Laura Leddy Turner began her writing career in 1976. She has worked in the newspaper industry as an illustrator, columnist, staff writer and copy editor, including with Gannett and the Asbury Park Press. Turner holds a B.A. in literature and English from Ramapo College of New Jersey, with postgraduate coursework in business law.