One of our great small digital collections is Life Studies of the Great Army, a book of etchings depicting scenes from the Civil War. Published in 1876, it features the work of Edwin Forbes, a relatively well known landscape artist.
The creation of these prints would’ve been pretty complex. In the process of copper plate etching, the plate is covered in a waxy substance and the artist draws his or her design into the wax, scratching all the way down to the plate. Dipping the plate in acid burns those exposed lines into the plate, after which the wax is stripped off, leaving an etched surface that can be inked and used in printing.
Click on any of the images to look at them up close in Acumen.
Top: “Representing the line of battle at daylight. The regimental bugler stands on the crest of the hill playing the reveille to arouse the troops, who are lying on the ground wrapped in their blankets.”
Bottom: “A moonlight scene. The regimental drum-corps is beating ‘tattoo,’ the signal for the men to retire to their tents. ‘Taps,’ the signal for ‘lights out,’ follows half an hour later.”
“The line, having advanced and driven the enemy, whose dead are lying in front, is ‘dressing up,’ while a reinforcing column can be seen coming over the hill in the distance. Shells from the enemy’s batteries are bursting in the air.”