While the photographic process evolved rapidly from its inception in 1839 and the wet plate process of taking photographs was coming into widespread use by the start of the Civil War, it was a cumbersome process in the field as well as the studio. More significantly, at that time the photographs themselves could not be reproduced as illustrations accompanying written reports of the war.
As a result, publishers of newspapers and other periodicals in major cities, primarily in the North, employed a number of sketch artists who traveled with armies to draw the scenes that they witnessed. These sketches, most frequently pencil on paper with brief identifications of people and places, were then sent back by courier to the periodical publishers. The battlefield sketches received by the publishers were then copied by engraving artists onto wooden blocks, which were used in printing presses to illustrate printed articles covering the war.
This illustration would have been done while Alfred Waud was a sketch artist working exclusively for Harper's Weekly. Here in this rare example we have Waud's original sketch framed with the resulting engraving as it was printed in Harper's Weekly, July 26th, 1862.
The Battle of Savage's Station took place on June 29, 1862, in Henrico County, Virginia, as the fourth of the Seven Days Battles (Peninsula Campaign) of the American Civil War. The main body of the Union Army of the Potomac began a general withdrawal toward the James River. Confederate Brig. Gen. John B. Magruder pursued along the railroad and the Williamsburg Road and struck Maj. Gen. Edwin Vose Sumner's II Corps (the Union rearguard) with three brigades near Savage's Station, while Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's divisions were stalled north of the Chickahominy River. Union forces continued to withdraw across White Oak Swamp, abandoning supplies and more than 2,500 wounded soldiers in a field hospital.
After the war, the popular Century Magazine started publishing the narratives of Civil War veterans and retained a large number of sketch artists including Waud to illustrate the articles. They used interviews, photographs, and prior war-date sketches to produce accurate pictorial representations of the war. These illustrated accounts were incorporated into a large four-volume work entitled Battles and Leaders of the Civil War in 1881.
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