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 Nashville, fought on December 15 and 16, 1864. Part of the Franklin-Nashville Campaign, it was a major victory for the Union. General George H. Thomas soundly defeated the Confederate General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee. In this print, Union troops overtake a Confederate artillery position during the battle. All soldiers’ uniforms are trimmed with different colors to represent their respective branch of service: light blue for infantry, red for artillery, and yellow for cavalry. The infantry regiment storming the hilltop in the upper portion of the illustration is composed of men from the United States Colored Troops. The retreating Confederate soldiers in the lower right corner wave white flags in surrender. A number of soldiers in the foreground of the scene lay either dead or dying.
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.