First Hand

Civil War Era Drawings from the Becker Collection

The American Civil War witnessed the emergence of a new type of journalist, the “embedded” or “Special Artist.” From 1861 to 1865, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Harper’s Weekly, and the New York Illustrated News sent Special Artists to travel with the Union armies to make drawings of various aspects of warfare, which would serve as the basis for illustrations to accompany news articles. The artists were asked to cover important as well as mundane matters including battles, diplomatic meetings, camp life, discipline within the ranks, and the aftermath of destruction. The Special Artists would add notes and comments to their drawings and send them from the battlefield by train to editorial offices in New York, where teams of engravers would translate the drawings into printing plates. 

Although the first illustrated newspapers appeared in the 1850s, the Civil War stimulated their subsequent growth and development. At the height of the conflict, weekly circulation reached hundreds of thousands. Without any comparable publication in the South, the New York-based illustrated newspapers, with their overtly pro-Union bias, dominated the new medium.

This exhibition presents fifty-one drawings from the Becker Collection and corresponding issues of Leslie’s. Taken together one recognizes the origins of many aspects of modern print journalism—a widely circulated press, illustrated news stories, embedded artists, and their role in shaping public opinion. 


This exhibition is organized and underwritten by the McMullen Museum at Boston College. 

Exhibition touring services are provided by Curatorial Assistance Traveling Exhibitions.