Through An Artist’s Eyes: Battle of the Wilderness

Edwin Forbes

May 5, 2019 marks the 155th Anniversary since the beginning of the Battle of the Wilderness. The first fierce battle of the Overland Campaign, and a conflict that turned into a blazing inferno as undergrowth and trees caught fire.

Photographs from the war period show the war’s casualties and destruction, but due to slow photographic processes none exist from actual Civil War battles. That is where the importance of artists and war correspondents began. They sketched real-time, preserving what they saw.

Edwin Forbes sketched for Frank Leslie’s Magazine and created memorable scenes from marches and battles. Here are five images of the Battle of the Wilderness through this artist’s eyes.

The added text between the photos are parts of Civil War song lyrics which seem appropriate to scene or historical moment. They are words the soldiers would have known, heard, or sung.

View of Battle of the Wilderness looking towards the Rapidan River (LOC LC-DIG-ppmsca-22380 )

“When o’er the desert, through burning rays, with a heavy heart I tread,
Or when I breast the cannons blaze, and bemoan my comrades dead.
Then, then I will think of my home and you…”

(The Young Volunteer)

The crossing of the Rapidan at Germanna Ford, May 5, 1864–Wilderness campaign (LC-DIG-ppmsca-20681)

You have called us, and we’re coming by Richmond’s bloody tide,
To lay us down for freedom’s sake, our brothers’ bones beside;
Or from foul treason’s savage group, to wrench the murderous blade;
And in the face of foreign foes its fragments to parade.
Six hundred thousand loyal men and true have gone before,
We are coming, Father Abraham, 300,000 more!

(We Are Coming Father Abraham)

Sketched on battlefield of Wilderness May 6th, 1864, 6 o’clock during Burnsides’ charge (LOC: LC-DIG-ppmsca-20696)

While upon the fields we’re watching,
With the enemy in view…

Hark, I hear the bugles sounding
‘Tis the signal for the fight
Now may God protect us, Mother
As he ever does the right

(Just Before The Battle Mother)

Wounded soldier leaning on a pitchfork at Battle of the Wilderness, May 7, 1864 (LOC: LC-DIG-ppmsca-20686)

Why am I so weak and weary,
See how faint my heated breath,
All around to me seems darkness,
Tell me, comrades, is this death?

(Who Will Care For Mother Now?)

U.S. Grant at the Wilderness (LC-DIG-ppmsca-20652)

I have read a fiery gospel writ in rows of burnished steel!

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

(Battle Hymn of the Republic)

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, editor, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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3 Responses to Through An Artist’s Eyes: Battle of the Wilderness

  1. I have 2 original drawings by William T. Crane (1832-1865) drawn on copywritten Frank Leslie’s sketch paper. Obviously rare, having 2 of only 244 drawings was a very important discovery.
    Crane worked as a “special artist” for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, which published 244 of his drawings. In addition, under orders from General Quincy A. Gilmore, Crane drew a series of sequential views of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor in the summer of 1863 depicting the stages of the fort’s demolition during a prolonged Union bombardment.
    I have one of the 4 drawings that was published in “Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper” from page 397 of the destruction of Ft. Sumpter on August 20, 1863.
    There is so very little about this artist, and I would like to know how he died in 1865 after he drew a series of photographs on the hangings of the Lincoln conspirators.
    Crane seems to have accomplished allot for someone who only lived to the age of 33.
    Does anyone know how he died ?

    • Sarah Kay Bierle says:

      Hi Stephen,
      Thanks for sharing about these sketches. That’s so interesting about Crane and now I want to know more too! Maybe I can tackle this research trail during the summer.
      Best,
      Sarah

      • Hi Sarah,
        As these drawings were found in Vermont and Crane came to report/sketch about the St. Albans Raid in 1864 and did a series of drawings here which were published in Leslie’s, these somehow were left behind?
        I am sure there is an interesting story to learn. I appreciate anything you might find when time permits.

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