“Pickett’s Charge” by Currier and Ives

Pickett's Charge

Image type: painting

Source: U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks; http://valley.lib.virginia.edu/VoS/Images/get106p5493.html?q=db:images%20AND%20image_name:get106p5493.GIF

This painting caught my eye as soon as I saw it, and right away anyone can tell there is much to take out of this picture. My dad had always told me stories about Pickett’s Charge, and I never really thought it was at all factual, until I learned about it a couple years ago in history class. The story of the charge is inspirational and the way it is portrayed in this painting proves that to be true in my opinion. The Confederate infantry is charging in the painting. Clearly, as it is shown, the Union forces seem to have the advantage in firepower, which leads me to think about what may have been going on in these Confederate soldiers’ minds. Pictures of battles always make me think about the soldiers fighting, because there is most likely always that thought going through their heads that they might in fact die on that day. This is something I find to be both admirable and terrifying at the same time. Who would willingly participate in a charge that is destined to be a failure? Maybe it was something only the generals knew and chose not to share with the men in the infantry, or maybe there was no knowing at all. However, I still look at this painting and fear that thought of perhaps imminent death every time it crosses my mind.

One Confederate soldier looks to be running away in the front of the painting, which leads me to believe maybe he is just a young boy. The creator of this painting may have done it to show the horror of war, or the exact opposite to show the glory that can come out of battle. My thoughts on this picture may be the opposite of what the author was going for, but to me these little ideas and concerns are real and they exist. Hopefully they do for others as well.

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4 thoughts on ““Pickett’s Charge” by Currier and Ives”

  1. What I find interesting about this piece of art is that it depicts the scene pretty accurately however, the interpretation is clearly one-sided. Although the Union side appears to have the upper hand in the situation, the weakened confederates appear to be the most valiant men on the battlefield. The uninjured general looking Confederate looks empowered by the set backs the Union has forced upon them and continues to encourage his troops in the situation.

  2. This image is very complex. In the North it could have one meaning and in the South it could have a totally different. Northerners would get from this the idea that their generals were smart and knew how to win war. Southerners would get the idea that the “cause” should still be believed in because these brave men are risking their lives for it. If the image showed all the members of the Southern brigade retreating it would have a much different message.

  3. This image is very complex. In the North it could have one meaning and in the South it could have a totally different one. Northerners would get from this the idea that their generals were smart and knew how to win war. Southerners would get the idea that the “cause” should still be believed in because these brave men are risking their lives for it. If the image showed all the members of the Southern brigade retreating it would have a much different message.

  4. I disagree with the notion that this photo is one sided, in fact, to me the most striking part of the photo is it’s relative objectivity in the depiction of the scene. The confederates are depicted realistically, with some bravely charging into battle as others flee and die. Likewise, the Union troops aren’t portrayed in any negative sort of light. The troops seem to be dedicated to their country and can be seen being urged on by others (represented by the officers waving their sabers) The other striking part is the relative size of the two armies. The Union lines stretch on forever (in the background of the photo) while the confederacy seems concentrated at the front. Even the number of flags (two union and one confederate) indicates the relative size of the armies. I find this especially interesting, because the painting reflects an actuality of the war, that the Union had significantly more resources, instead of romanticizing the war as many other painting try to do.

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