American Civil War

During the American Civil War, illustrated journalism and cartoons in print media became available to the American public for the first time.  “Many factors contributed to this sudden flowering: the growth of the population and the news market, the solving of many technological problems by men trained in English and American picture publishing, and an aroused popular attention to news events of national concern.  Between 1855 and 1860 the American lithographing and engraving industries flourished, several illustrated comic weeklies, including Vanity Fair, began offering their cartoon wares to the public, and most significantly three enterprising  publishers established weekly illustrated newspapers:  Harper’s Weekly, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, and the New York Illustrated News” [1].  Illustrations about events going on in the world around them captivated American audiences, and they energetically embraced this new form of information.  One result was that images alongside news stories were, for the first time, able to depict war as seen in the American Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States March 4, 1861, and as a response 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America (the Confederacy).  The other 25 states supported the federal government (the Union). Civil war went on from 1861-1865 and after roughly four years of warfare, mostly within the Southern states, the Confederacy surrendered and slavery was outlawed.  The causes and aims of the civil war were numerous and complex.  However, the primary factors involved were slavery/abolition of slavery and this issues within the larger question of state rights.

Both the Union and the Confederates used the new development in print media to further their causes.

Besides visual propaganda being common in print news, during the Civil War there was a popular period of pictorial envelopes being produced and used.  This style of patriotism is unique in American history as it would only be utilized to such a widespread extent for a few short years at the beginning of the Civil War, and, unlike envelopes of a similar nature in other countries, these were produced independently (not by any governmental organization).  These envelopes were produced in both the North and the South and were used most commonly in letter writing.  As this was the dominant form of communication, hundreds of thousands were produced.  “New York City was considered the printing capital of the United States from about 1825 and continued to be so during the Civil War years. Despite New York’s official status as a Union state, many residents of New York City were not so assuredly in favor of the Union, or even of the war itself. In 1863 the city saw riots in Union Square and elsewhere protesting the draft and other war hardships. Such commotion in the nation’s biggest city may have added more weight to the need for distribution of pro-Union propaganda” [2].

The Persuasive Eloquence of the Sunny South
The Persuasive Eloquence of the Sunny South. This is a Union envelope depicting an African American tied to a pole, with a whip coming down on his back, serving as an expression of anti-slavery and pro-union sentiment. [3

A pro-confederate envelope depicts Colonel Ellsworth, a Union soldier best known as the first conspicuous casualty of the American Civil War, juxtaposed with the names "House Breaker" and "Thief". [4]
A pro-confederate envelope depicts Colonel Ellsworth, a Union soldier best known as the first conspicuous casualty of the American Civil War, juxtaposed with the names “House Breaker” and “Thief”. [4]

Besides newsprint, American’s also consumed a large amount of almanacs.  While produced with varying purpose, Pro-Union almanacs, such as the Anti-Slavery Almanac, were widely popular in the North.  “Almanacs were widely popular publications, read and used by the great majority of literate American adults. The Anti−Slavery Almanac was intended to instruct, persuade and horrify its readers about the evils of the American slave system and discrimination against people of color. Each of its 13 woodcuts—one for each of 12 months and one for the cover—presented an image of the evils of slavery and racism” [5].  In its portrayals of ‘the evils of slavery and racism’, it heavily relied upon classic propaganda techniques, most commonly demonizing the enemy and name calling (making the South, as a whole, appear immoral). In the following example from Anti-Slavery Almanac, through relying on  emotional sympathy from Northerners, the artist attempts to win the audiences’ denouncement of slavery and support for the Union as it demonizes the South and it’s practices of slavery.

Anti-Slavery Almanac
Anti-Slavery Almanac

The Confederacy would use similar techniques to the North, but one technique that the South utilized significantly more was an appeal to fear.  This is exemplified most clearly in Southern propaganda featuring miscegenation – “the mixing of different racial groups through marriage, cohabitation, sexual relations, and procreation” [6].  The following image from Edward Williams Clay is titled “The Amalgamation Waltz” and it depicts a ballroom dance where African-American men dance with Caucasian women, while their would-be Caucasian male escorts watch from the balcony.  This image insinuates that the abolition of slavery and the amalgamation of freed slaves would result in, what would be considered horrible, miscegenation.  Thus, The Amalgamation Waltz cartoon clearly draws on it’s audience’s sense of fear.
The Amalgamation Waltz [7

Many cartoons regarding the Civil War were less serious and fear-inspiring as those above, often they were intended to be humorous or satirical.  Despite being more light hearted in nature, these cartoons still served to re-enforce an audiences’ attitude about a given topic.  At the time of the Civil War, the vast majority of Southerners were against African-American conscription in the military, though there was a contingent of those that believed they should be able to enlist.  The following cartoon depicts two men who, presumably, were slaves that were then entered into service, in the foreground.  The men in the foreground are featured in cartoonish and stereotypically racist ways, having a chat.  The numerous men in the background appear to be engaging in similar light hearted banter.  This is problematic because one of the men represents the Union forces, and the other represents Confederate forces.  The title “The Black Conscription” is followed with the sentence “When black meets black then comes the end of war”.  “To modern sensibilities, this is one of the most offensive of Tenniel’s cartoons, as its theme is the notion that black men are incapable of becoming good soldiers” [8].  This cartoon was intended to be humorous, but in all seriousness it served to cement the belief that black men should not be permitted to fight alongside white men, and was a blatant use of appeal to prejudice (racial prejudice) and stereotyping, and uses that solid stereotyping in transfer (a technique of projecting perceived negative qualities of a group to another to make the second to discredit it).

The Black Conscription. When Black Meets Black Then Comes the End of War. [8]
The Black Conscription. When Black Meets Black Then Comes the End of War. [8]
In both the North and South Civil War recruitment posters, like most other war recruitment posters, were infused with various propaganda elements.  Civil War recruiting posters frequently employed patriotic appeals (flag waving), slogans, and virtue words (patriotism, courage, honor, etc.). “Patriotic imagery contributed to the plea, and might feature eagles with wings spread, cavalry officers with raised swords, battle scenes, or pictures of George Washington and other national figures. Most posters were intended for a broad-based audience but some targeted specific segments of the population, such as posters written in German or French or decorated with harps and shamrocks to appeal to Irish-Americans” [9].  Though the specifics of each poster are combined in all different manner of ways, one thing they all have in common is that they attempt to convince their audience to support the war effort, and the most common way they did this (both in the North and South) was through appeals of patriotism.

Union Recruitment Poster, Indiana Snake Killers
Union Recruitment Poster. “Indiana Snake Killers” for Col. Scribner’s Regiment at Camp Noble, New Albany Aug. 30, 1861. [10]

The propaganda imagery produced out of the American Civil War era generally relied upon patriotic fervor to advance the aims of the Union and the Confederacy. It is concretely true that many southern states seceded and practiced slavery, while the North -generally- supported Lincoln (enough to not, as a whole, threaten secession) and did not own slaves.  It was not set in stone, however, that because one lived in the North that they would automatically support the Union, support the abolition of slavery, oppose secession, or support these so much so that they would fight on behalf of them (or vice-verse for the South).  This is primarily what purpose propaganda served during the American Civil War – the solidification of North vs. South identity, pro-abolition vs. anti-abolition.  The efficacy of each respective side’s propaganda can still be felt easily today, close to 150 years since its occurrence. The KKK (which formed in the South as a result of the Union’s victory) is still active, as well as many other similar groups that are concentrated most densely in the South-East [11].  The song “Dixie” (oft protested as a racist relic of the Confederacy and a reminder of decades of white domination and segregation) as well as the Confederate flag are still sung and flown popularly throughout the south as symbols of Southern pride and heritage.  In the modern United States a felt North-South divide still lingers that Union and Confederate propagandists sought to instill nearly 150 years ago.


[1] Thomson Jr., William Fletcher. “Pictorial Propaganda and the Civil War.” Editorial. The Wisconsin Magazine of History Autumn 1962. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <>.

[2]  “Guide to the Patriotic Envelope Collection [1861-1865], 1898 PR 117.” The New-York Historical Society. Web. 07 Feb. 2012. <>.

[3] Sasser, Patricia. “The Persuasive Eloquence of the Sunny South.” Digital Collection: South Carolina and the Civil War. University Libraries, University of South Carolina, July 2009. Web. 07 Feb. 2012. <>.

[4]  “24 May 1861: Col. Ellsworth “House Breaker and Thief”.” Weblog post. The Civil War Day by Day. UNC University Library, 24 May 2011. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <>.

[5]  “The Anti-Slavery Almanac.” Teach US History. Web. 07 Feb. 2012. <>.

[6]  “Miscegenation.” Web. 07 Feb. 2012. <>.







  1. Normally I don’t learn post on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very compelled me to take a look at and do it! Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thank you, very great article.

  2. But titanium engagement rings for woomen aare comparatively very cheap annd
    affordable, which can certainly save you considerable amount of money.

    By placing the ring on his soon-to-be-wife, the groom
    gives the world an outward demonstration that he not only loves his bride, but also can afford to marry
    hher and take her from her father. So if you want your diamond engagement
    ring tto be unique, you should choose a colored diamond for it.

  3. I’m currently doing a paper over propaganda and this is amazing information! Definitely getting a cite! Thank you, Liz!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s