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Selected Civil War Art
from CMH Prints and Posters Sets

  • Dress on the Colors
    Virginia, 1864
    Hi-Res (613KB) (1655x2163)
    Part of The Noncommissioned Officer

    During the Civil War, sergeants and corporals preserved order when troops massed in line and assisted the officers by leading small units deployed for skirmishing. The color sergeant, performing what had once been an officer's duty, became the pivotal point in battle around which the regiments advanced and wheeled. Visible through the smoke and dust of battle, the sergeant's colors attracted the heaviest enemy fire and became the center of hand-to-hand combat.

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    Here a regiment advances during the siege of Petersburg by aligning itself on the color sergeant.

    Each infantry regiment had two colors, the Stars and Stripes and a second with a solid field bearing the national arms. Both flags were large, 6 by 61/2 feet, mounted on 91/2 foot pikes. The national colors, shown here, bore the regimental designation on the central stripe. It became the battle flag, the one usually carried into combat. The practice of inscrib-ing honors on the other stripes during the Civil War led to the modern custom of streamers. Each flag was borne by a color sergeant, a special duty position distinct from the company-level NCO. He was protected by the six corporals of the color party.

    Sergeants in the Civil War were distinguished by their chevrons and trouser stripes and by their right to carry a sword, in this instance, a model 1840 NCO sword suspended from a shoulder belt and waist belt with distinctive eagle plates. Branch insignia included devices (for infantry, the light infantry horn) as well as the distinctive color of the uniform trim. Each foot soldier carried his possessions in a painted canvas folding knapsack with blanket roll strapped above. The knapsack was the first thing dropped before going into action. The soldier, however, was rarely separated from his haversack, which contained his rations, and from his tin canteen.

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  • The American Soldier, 1863
    Part of The American Soldier: Set 2

    These Union uniforms, worn here by soldiers in the western theater of operations at the midpoint of the Civil War, illustrate the continuing trend toward simplicity of style and subdued, if not drab colors, which first came into widespread use in the Army during the War of 1812.

    These veterans are garbed in the regulation blue, which offered protective coloring and concealment, and less likelihood of the wearer's becoming an obvious target of the long-range small arms and more efficient artillery of the Confederate Army.

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    In the left foreground is a first lieutenant of the Corps of Engineers in the dark blue frock coat and trousers, with a gold cord down the side adopted in 1861. He is identifiable by his shoulder straps, officer's red sash and sword, and the forage cap badge of an engineer officer-a silver turreted castle within a gold wreath. His rank is indicated by the single gold bar on his shoulder strap; a second lieutenant at this time wore an officer's uniform with gold bordered, but unadorned, shoulder straps.

    The first sergeant of infantry in the right foreground is identified as such by his dark blue sack coat and his light blue chevrons, noncommissioned officer's sword and red sash. He is wearing the light blue trousers adopted after the outbreak of hostilities for regimental officers and men. The red acorn corps badge on the sergeant's fatigue cap shows that he is a member of the 1st Division, Fourteenth U.S. Army Corps.

    In the background, soldiers of the sergeant's regiment and of an artillery unit are crossing a ponton-or pontoon in 19th century usage-bridge, which was probably erected under the lieutenant's direction.

    This image of represents two of the three traditional combat arms and the engineers of the traditional direct combat support arm, also illustrates the beginnings in the concept of a co-ordinated combat team.

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  • The American Soldier, 1863
    Part of The American Soldier: Set 3

    The use of riverboats, steamships, and railroads during the Civil War greatly increased the mobility of armies. However, armies in the field required still another type of transportation. Wagon trains not only had to accompany troops on active operations but also had to be employed to distribute stores brought in bulk to railway terminals and steamer wharves. The Army wagons and harness had been perfected by long years of experience and operation on the western plains.

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    The wheels, axles, and other principal parts were made to standard measurements to permit interchangeability of parts. Early in the war the Army procured both horses and mules for use with trains, but experience later convinced quartermasters that mules were far superior to horses for such service.

    In the foreground is a sergeant of cavalry in the dark blue cloth uniform jacket prescribed for all enlisted men of the cavalry and light artillery. His unit and arm are recognizable by the yellow metal insignia on his kept, the yellow lace trimmings on the collar and cuffs, and around the edge of the jacket. The first sergeant's yellow worsted binding chevrons and lozenge, the stripe on his trousers seam, and the red sash show his rank, while the half-chevron on his lower sleeve testifies to faithful service. His light blue overcoat is strapped in front of the pommel and he is using the dark blue saddle blanket with an orange stripe adopted in 1859.

    In the left center is a major of ordnance in the dark blue, double-breasted cloth frock coat, with two rows of seven buttons worn by all field grade officers. The dark blue ground of his shoulder straps shows that he is a member of the General Staff or Staff Corps, and the gold oak leaves show his rank as major. The Ordnance Corps insignia on the front of his forage cap is a gold embroidered shell and flame on a black velvet background, and on the gilt, convex buttons on the frock coat are crossed cannon and a bombshell, with a circular scroll over and across the cannon, containing the words Ordnance Corps.

    In the background is an Army train manned by civilian teamsters and composed of white covered wagons with "bluish tinted" bodies and wheels "of Venetian red darkened to a chocolate color."

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  • The American Soldier, 1862
    Part of The American Soldier: Set 5

    With the outbreak of the Civil War in the United States, a number of ethnically-oriented militia groups responded to President Lincoln's call for volunteers to preserve the union. One such unit to volunteer was a predominantly German-American unit known as the Citizens Corps of Milwaukee. On 25 and 27 April 1861, the unit officers, William Lindwurm, Frederick Schumacher, and Werner Von Bachelle were commissioned captain, first lieutenant, and second lieutenant of the company, respectively.

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    By 10 May 1861, the company was officially mustered into the evolving 6th Wisconsin Regiment as Company F, bringing the total of German-Americans in the Union Army to almost thirty-six thousand.

    On 16 July 1861, the 6th Wisconsin Volunteers departed for Washington, D.C. Here, the regiment was brigaded with the Union Army's 2d and 7th Wisconsin Regiments and the 19th from Indiana, under Brig. Gen. John Gibbon. The brigade, in 1862, achieved increased efficiency and military prowess and a distinctive uniform that resulted in the nickname "Black Hat Brigade" from fellow Union soldiers. Following the brigade's determined assault upon the heights at Turner's Gap at South Mountain, Maryland, Gibbon's brigade won a new title, "The Iron Brigade of the West". Three days later, the unit proved its worth once again by bravely assaulting Lee's forces in one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

    Shown in the painting is the brigade assaulting the Confederate forces at Turner's Gap. The men of the 6th Wisconsin Volunteers are wearing dark blue frock coats with sky-blue trousers. A few are attired in grey overcoats. All are wearing either the black wool/felt hat with a sky-blue double looped cord or Model 1858 forage cap. Armed with the M1861 Springfield muzzle-loading rifle muskets, the men of the Wisconsin units prepare to meet the enemy at the summit.

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First at Vicksburg
DA Poster 21-41
Part of U.S. Army in Action

Confederate Lines, Vicksburg, Mississippi, 19 May 1863. In this assault against bitter resistance the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry, lost forty-three percent of its men, but of the attacking force, it alone fought its color up the steep slope to the top. General Sherman called its performance "unequalled in the Army" and authorized the 13th Infantry to inscribe "First at Vicksburg" on its color. Although it took two more months of hard fighting to capture Vicksburg and split the Confederacy, no episode illustrates better the indomitable spirit of Americans on both sides.

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Fort Taylor
Florida (1822)
Part of the Eastman Forts

Fort Taylor now stands on Key West. The island became U.S. property when the Navy hoisted an American flag over it in 1822. The Army established a barracks on the north shore of the island in 1831, and in 1845 construction of Fort Zachary Taylor began on the southwest side, on a sandy shoal about 400 yards offshore. Three of the fort's four bastions overlooked and controlled the water approaches to Key West. When the Civil War began in 1861 the post was ready to be garrisoned, and Union forces occupied it during the entire war.

Between the end of the Civil War and the end of the nineteenth century, the Army periodically abandoned and then reopened the installation. In 1870, for example, the Surgeon General reported that the quarters "are not in good condition" and that "the fort is occupied only by a guard." A modernization program between 1898 and 1905 reduced the fort's original three stories to one so that modern coast artillery could be mounted on the original bottom tier. As shown in Eastman's painting, water completely surrounded the fortress during most of its existence, but in the mid 1960s the Navy dredged and filled the area between the fort and Key West, making the installation an integral part of the island. Fort Taylor became a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

Selected Civil War Artwork From the
National Guard Heritage Collection

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"The First Minnesota"
by Don Troiani
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania -- July 2, 1863

Among the many militia regiments that responded to President Lincoln's call for troops in April 1861 was the First Minnesota Infantry. As the First Union regiment to volunteer for three years of service, the First Minnesota fought at the battles of Bull Run, Antietam and Fredericksburg. It was, however, during the Battle of Gettysburg that the First Minnesota played a significant role in American military history. On the morning of July 2, 1863, the First Minnesota, along with the other units of the II Corps, took its position in the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Late in the day, the Union III Corps, under heavy attack by the Confederate I Corps, collapsed creating a dangerous gap in the Union line. The advancing Confederate brigades were in position to breakthrough and then envelope the Union forces. At that critical moment, the First Minnesota was ordered to attack. Advancing at double time, the Minnesotans charged into the leading Confederate brigade with unbounded fury. Fighting against overwhelming odds, the heroic Minnesotans gained the time necessary for the Union line to reform. But the cost was great. Of the 262 members of the regiment present for duty that morning, only 47 answered the roll that evening. The regiment incurred the highest casualty rate of any unit in the Civil War. The gallant heritage of the First Minnesota is carried on by the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 135th Infantry, Minnesota Army National Guard.

* As per the National Guard Heritage Series website, use or reproduction of this print by entities other than the U.S. Government is reserved by the artist. Please contact Don Troiani at”

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"The Old Flag Never Touched the Ground"
by Rick Reeves
Fort Wagner, South Carolina -- July 18, 1863

The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was recruited in the spring of 1863 by Governor John Andrew, who had secured the reluctant permission of the War Department to create a regiment of African-American soldiers. Like all Massachusetts Civil War soldiers, the 54th's men were enlisted in the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia. These Guardsmen would serve as a test case for many skeptical whites who believed that blacks could not be good soldiers. The battle that proved they could was fought on Morris Island, at the mouth of Charleston Harbor. Following three days of skirmishes and forced marches with little rest, and 24 hours with no food, the regimental commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, requested the perilous honor of leading the attack of Fort Wagner, a sand and palmetto log bastion. As night fell, 600 men of the 54th advanced with bayonets fixed. Despite withering cannon and rifle fire, the men sustained their charge until they reached the top of the rampart. There, Colonel Shaw was mortally wounded. There, also, Sergeant William Carney, who had earlier taken up the National Colors when the color sergeant had been shot, planted the flag and fought off numerous attempts by the Confederates to capture it. Without support, and faced with superior numbers and firepower, the 54th was forced to pull back. Despite two severe wounds, Sergeant Carney carried the colors to the rear. When praised for his bravery, he modestly replied, "I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground." Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions, the first African-American to receive the award. The 54th Massachusetts suffered 270 casualties in the failed assault, but the greater message was not lost: some 180,000 African-American soldiers followed in the footsteps of these gallant Guardsmen, and proved that African-American soldiers could, indeed, fight heroically if given the opportunity.

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"The Twentieth Maine"
by H. Charles McBarron
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania -- July 2, 1863

The Battle of Gettysburg, the largest battle ever fought in the Western hemisphere, is often called the turning point of the Civil War. The battle was a narrow victory for the Union and could have been a Confederate victory if it were not for a series of critical events. One such episode involved the 20th Maine Infantry. Organized in the Maine Volunteer Militia in August 1862, the 20th Maine mustered into Federal service several weeks later. Assigned to the Army of the Potomac, the regiment fought in the Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville campaigns. At Gettysburg, the 20th was commanded by Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain, a former professor at Maine's Bowdoin College. After marching all day and night to reach Gettysburg, the regiment was ordered late in the afternoon of July 2 to occupy critical terrain between two hills, Big and Little Round Top. Chamberlain was ordered to hold this position on the extreme left flank of the Union line at all costs; if outflanked by the Confederates, the entire Union position would be in jeopardy. It was not long before the 15th and 47th Alabama Regiments attacked. The 20th Maine held off six attacks by the determined Alabama men, but Colonel Chamberlain knew that his regiment, low on ammunition, could not withstand a seventh. He therefore ordered a counterattack with fixed bayonets, and the 20th charged down the slopes of Little Round Top into the startled Confederates and broke their attack. The 20th Maine took 400 prisoners and stopped the Confederates threat to the Union flank. The crucial role these Maine militiamen played in the Union victory at Gettysburg exemplifies the military qualities of leadership, initiative, unit cohesion and gallantry. Joshua Chamberlain was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions of July 2, 1863. At Appomattox Courthouse almost two years later, it was Brevet Major General Chamberlain, chosen to accept the Confederate surrender, who ordered Union troops to present arms to their former enemy as a mark of respect. After the war Chamberlain was elected Governor of Maine, and completed his military career as a major general in the Maine National Guard. The heritage of the 20th Maine is carried on today by the 133d Engineer Battalion, Maine Army National Guard.

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"Plenty of Fighting Today"
The 9th Illinois at Shiloh
by Keith Rocco
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania - July 2, 1863

Originally organized in 1809, in 1861 the 9th Illinois Infantry responded immediately to the call of President Lincoln, a company commander in the regiment during the Black Hawk War. Many of those who mustered in were German immigrants. The 9th was at Shiloh, Tennessee on April 6, 1862 when the Confederate Army of the Mississippi struck at dawn. Some Union regiments fled in panic as Major General U.S. Grant ordered his division commanders to hold at all costs. Sent to reinforce the Union left, the 9th was told "There is going to be plenty of fighting today; there must be no cowards." South of the Peach Orchard, the regiment was ordered to a tree-choked ravine, and found themselves in a race with Confederates for the same natural barrier. The 9th got there first. Confederate commander Albert Sidney Johnston remarked on the Illinois regiment's stubborn stand" as the 9th Arkansas and 29th Tennessee joined the fight. Finally, renewed attacks collapsed the 12th and 15th Illinois on the 9th's flanks and with their dead and wounded thick on the ground, the regiment had to withdraw. The 9th suffered 103 killed and 258 wounded on Shiloh's first day, one of the highest totals of the entire Civil War. Their 90-minute stand helped save Grant's left, and prepared the way for the great Union Counterattack the next day. The proud heritage of the 9th Illinois is carried on today by the 130th Infantry Regiment, Illinois Army National Guard.

Selected Civil War Art From the
Army Art Collection

The following are selected artwork from the Army Art Collection. Please click here for additional information about the Army Art Program.