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 1893 chromolithograph depicts the Third Battle of Winchester, fought on September 19, 1864. The Union victory here resulted in Federal forces under General Philip Sheridan gaining the upper hand over the Confederate army of General Jubal Early in the Shenandoah Valley. In the foreground of this print, Union and Confederate cavalries clash. At the center, a Union cavalryman raises his sabre over his head while his Confederate foe to his right take aim with a pistol. Behind them, rows of riflemen reinforced with cannons exchange fire across an open field at the bottom of a valley. A cloud of smoke from the Confederate artillery fire rolls down between the two armies. Below this smoke, the bodies of killed soldiers are scattered across the battlefield.
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.