Capitalizing on the success of Civil War-related artwork during the 1880s and 90s, the Chicago-based printmakers Louis Kurz and Alexander Allison published a series of 36 battle scenes commemorating famous engagements of the war. All displayed idealized, panoramic representations of the battles with statistics of the killed and wounded below each image. Kurz and Allison did not consult photography or Civil War historians when designing their prints, instead relying on Kurz’s own first-hand experience as a soldier during the conflict. They included historical inaccuracies and eschewed aesthetic realism to remain true to earlier, pre-photographic lithographic traditions, which preferred bold graphics, black outlines, and figures performing grand, exaggerated gestures.
This 1891 chromolithograph depicts the Battle of Fort Sanders, fought on November 29, 1863. The fort had been renamed after Union General William P. Sanders, who had been killed in action 10 days prior to the battle. Commanded by General James Longstreet, Confederate forces launch an assault on the fortified Union position, held by General Ambrose Burnside. The Confederate forces needed to seize this stronghold in order to capture the city of Knoxville, currently occupied by the Union and situated on a crucial railroad hub linking the east and west parts of the Confederacy. The Confederates failed to take Fort Sanders, suffering much heavier losses than the Union soldiers.
Louis Kurz was a mural and scene painter before the Civil War, explaining the mural-like format of the images. His illustrations also appear to have been inspired by cycloramas, which were popular at the time, such as Paul Philippoteaux’s Gettysburg Cyclorama. Kurz was an Austrian immigrant who settled in Chicago during the 1850s, where he formed a partnership with Henry Seifert of Milwaukee. He later fought for the Union Army during the Civil War. After the conflict, he co-founded the Chicago Lithographic Company. When the company’s assets were destroyed during the Chicago Fire of 1871, Kurz started a new business with his partner, financial backer, and business manager, Alexander Allison.