The Civil War legacy of Robert Knox Sneden is an unparalleled treasure trove of words and pictures. The publication of the bestselling "Eye of the Storm" in the fall of 2000 first brought his memoir to light, accompanied by a sample of his artwork. In all, however, he crafted some 900 watercolors and sketches. Now, with the 300 watercolors, sketches, maps, and diagrams in "Images from the Storm, " his artistic legacy can be appreciated on its own terms -- an achievement equal in magnitude to his writings, and unsurpassed by any other Civil War soldier-artist. "Images from the Storm" presents the best of Sneden's art throughout his odyssey of combat, capture, imprisonment, and deliverance, a pictorial record of the war that puts the viewer in the shoes of a Union soldier as nothing else can. Sneden aimed for vivid detail and documentary accuracy in his maps, landscapes, battles, and scenes of camp life. He sketched the camps and surroundings of the Union army, the siege of Yorktown, the battle of Williamsburg, the approach of the army to within sight of the church spires of Richmond, and the tumultuous fighting retreat of the Seven Days' battles as the Union army shrank before a relentless Confederate offensive. He drew dozens of maps and sketched daily life around Washington, D.C., before his capture in autumn 1863. For the next thirteen months, Sneden was a prisoner of the Confederacy. In a drafty tobacco warehouse in Richmond, he sketched prison life and Confederate scenes before being packed with others aboard cattle cars for a jolting train ride south. In a remote corner of rural Georgia, he survived the outdoor prison at Andersonville and drew some of his most astonishing images of camp life and its suffering. When Andersonville was evacuated, he continued to make secret pencil sketches of Confederate prisons in Savannah and Millen, Georgia, and in Florence and Charleston, South Carolina. Finally freed in a massive prisoner exchange in Charleston harbor, he returned home to New York at Christmas 1864. He made little use of his architectural training thereafter, but devoted himself to compiling his memoir of the war and converting his pencil sketches into watercolors. A solitary man who never married, Sneden died at an old soldiers' home in Bath, New York, in 1918. His watercolors and his story were forgotten for nearly a century. Images from the Storm reproduces the best of Sneden's art in sharp colors, so we can appreciate fully the mastery of a miniaturist who saw it all, and sketched whenever and wherever he could.
If Vietnam was the first television war, the Civil War was the first to use mass-produced battlefield sketches and drawings as adjuncts to news reports, filling the pages of publications such as Harper's and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Weekly. One illustrator, a Union private named Robert Sneden, had plenty of opportunities to practice his art at close range, turning out nearly a thousand sketches, maps, and plans of the great battles in which he participated.
Images from the Storm, the follow-on from last year's bestselling Eye of the Storm, gathers more than 300 of those images that Sneden made of clashes at Second Manassas, Malvern Hill, Antietam, Yorktown and others. Some of the images are panoramic, capturing miles-long lines of infantry and cities under siege; others depict smaller scenes of war, such as dancing "contraband," or freed slaves, and the graves of the fallen. Of particular interest to historians are Sneden's drawings of the Confederate prison camps at Richmond and, notoriously, Andersonville, where he spent much of the year 1864 after he was captured by John Singleton Mosby's cavalry at Brandy Station, Virginia. One of those images became nationally known after the war, note the book's editors, accompanying an account of the war crimes trial and subsequent execution of the Andersonville camp commander.
These works, one scholar has noted, constitute "the single most important collection of Civil War art to be discovered in this century." Students of that conflict will find this critical edition to be of much interest and use as a companion to other accounts. --Gregory McNamee
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