Honest Abe’s War

Mark Bryant examines how cartoonists saw the most traumatic years of American history.

The American Civil War (1861-65) was the bloodiest conflict in American history: of nearly two-and-a-half million men who fought in it, more than 600,000 died (two-thirds from disease). It began when eleven of the slave-owning southern ‘cotton’ states broke away from the Union soon after the election of Abraham Lincoln as President. They then declared themselves independent as the Confederate States of America, with their own president, Jefferson Davis, based in a new capital at Richmond, Virginia. Unwilling to accept secession, the Union’s army attacked and after initial defeats the military superiority of the North prevailed and the South were finally beaten when Richmond fell in the spring of 1865. However, soon after peace was declared Lincoln was assassinated by a supporter of the Confederacy. The conflict was portrayed in prints, newspapers and magazines by cartoonists on both sides – most of whom were of foreign birth –  and there were also many caricatures of the tall, bearded Lincoln himself, who was a gift to cartoonists worldwide.

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