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 1889 chromolithograph commemorates the 25th anniversary of the battle of Olustee, the only major battle of the Civil War fought in Florida, which took place on February 20, 1864. The Confederacy earned a major victory over Union forces. Federal casualties were high, and the Union Army decided against engaging in future contests in Florida for the remainder of the war. In the print, a Union force composed mainly of free blacks and freedmen from the United States Colored Troops, advance on a heavily fortified Confederate position. In actuality, however, the Confederate forces did not fire from trenches as they do in the print and the battle was fought in a pine forest with relatively few large clearings.
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.