Special Report

Civil War Artifacts in the Smithsonian

The museum collections house many items from the Civil War, including photographs, uniforms and personal diaries

Lincoln's Top Hat (National Museum of American History)

Adalbert J. Volck’s Sketches from the Civil War National Portrait Gallery

Adalbert J Volck Sketches from the Civil War
(National Portrait Gallery)

This caricature of Abraham Lincoln, titled Knight of the Rueful Countenance, comes from the pro-Confederate Sketches from the Civil War in North America, by Adalbert J. Volck. A dentist by trade, Volck immigrated to the United States in 1848 from Germany. Living in Baltimore, he turned Southern sympathizer, smuggling medical supplies to Virginia and producing propaganda that vilified Lincoln, abolitionists and Union soldiers. Here the artist portrays Lincoln as a Don Quixote-like character, with John Brown’s pike, a satanic-looking helmet, an ax and rail (campaign symbols) and a cannon-shaped inkwell. The president rests his foot on books titled “Constitution,” “Law” and “Habeas Corpus,” while on his desk are documents that list Union defeats.

“There is a dearth of authentic visual material from the South or from the Southern point of view,” says Wendy Wick Reaves, curator of prints and drawings. These are “a treasure trove in terms of telling the Confederate side of the story.” Volck’s supposed 200 copies of Sketches must have been distributed clandestinely. Because of the Union occupation of Baltimore, he couldn’t ship his prints to the South, so they probably weren’t widely available. They became better known after the war. “Adalbert Volck’s Confederate Sketches” opens at the National Portrait Gallery on March 30, 2012.

by Jeanne Maglaty


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