An Irish ‘Special Artist’ with the Army of the Potomac

The 3rd June 1865 issue of Harper’s Weekly captured the role of the Special Artist in the Civil War: The soldiers are marching home, and with them the noble army of artists. There never was a war before of which the varying details, the striking and picturesque scenes, the sieges, charges, and battles by land and sea have been presented to the eye of the world by the most skillful and devoted artists. They have made the weary marches and the dangerous voyages. They have shared the soldiers’ fare; they have ridden and waded, and climbed and floundered, always trusting in lead pencils and keeping their paper dry. When the battle began, they were there.(1)

Halt of Wilcox's Troops in Caroline Street previous to going into Battle, 13th December 1862 (Arthur Lumley, Library of Congress)

One of the very first of these artists was Irishman Arthur Lumley. He was born in Dublin in 1837 and emigrated to the United States while still a child. Settling in Brooklyn, New York, he entered the National Academy of Design in the 1850s to study art. At the age of 21 he became a US Citizen. He began to illustrate for books, and spent the pre-war years engaged in works for titles such as The Life and Adventures of Kit Carson and Wild Life; or Adventures of the Frontier. (2)

A Sutler's tent near H.Q., August 1862 (Arthur Lumley, Library of Congress)

The outbreak of war found him working for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. In April of 1861 Leslie sent Lumley to Washington D.C. to become the first Special Artist attached to what became the Union Army of the Potomac. He was an eyewitness to Bull Run, the first battle of the war, of which he produced a number of sketches showing the initial Federal success and subsequent retreat. 1862 found Lumley with the New York Illustrated News, who published no less than 298 of his wartime illustrations. (3)

Building 'corderoy' roads from Belle Plain to Fredericksburgh (Arthur Lumley, Library of Congress)

The life of a Special Artist was not an easy one. They experienced many of the hardships of frontline troops, and during battle had to sketch the action as quickly as possible. These men often received no credit for the publicized image, which could be significantly altered and adapted prior to release. Lumley managed to do this at some of the most horrendous engagements of the war, such as Antietam and Fredericksburg.  In addition he sent back reports of the events he witnessed, which helped the illustrated papers to communicate to their readers the particulars of the war.

Breaking up the camps of the Army of the Potomac, February 1863 (Arthur Lumley, Library of Congress)

Not all of the artist’s images would make it to final publication, and indeed some would never make it as far as the editor’s desk. Brigadier-General Alpheus S. Williams was pleased with the sketch that Lumley made of his division wading across the Rapidan during the Chancellorsville Campaign of 1863, but noted that the Irishman lost his entire portfolio of sketches in the defeat and retreat that followed. (4)

Bringing wounded soldiers to the cars after the Battle of Seven Pines, 3rd June 1862 (Arthur Lumley, Library of Congress)

Lumley had a productive career as an artist, and during his life he also worked for publications such as Harper’s Weekly, The London Illustrated News, La Monde Illustrate and Fine Arts. In his later life he would turn to painting, particularly landscape work and portraits. He did not have any family and spent his final months in the Mary Fisher Home in Mount Vernon, New York, where he died aged 75 on 27th September 1912. (4) Although his life has not been the subject of major study, he has nonetheless left a lasting legacy in some of the finest and most important surviving sketches of life and death during the American Civil War.

(1) Time Magazine 1961; (2) Gallagher 2007, New York Times obituary 1912; (3) Gallagher 2007, New York Times obituary 1912; (4) Sears 1996: 164; (5) New York Times obituary 1912

References & Further Reading

Gallagher, Sheila 2007. Artist Biography: Arthur Lumley

Sears, Stephen W. 1996. Chancellorsville

New York Times 28th September 1912 ‘Arthur Lumley Artist Dies’

Time Magazine 17th February 1961 ‘Artist-Journalists of the Civil War’

Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

New York Times Archive 1851- 1980

The Becker Collection

Moore, James 1865. Kilpatrick and our Cavalry. (Illustrations by Arthur Lumley)

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated History of the Civil War (with Illustrations by Arthur Lumley amongst others)

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Categories: Illustration, Non Combatant

Author:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.

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3 Comments on “An Irish ‘Special Artist’ with the Army of the Potomac”

  1. R. Mahoney
    February 17, 2012 at 12:17 am #

    I have an oil painting by Arthur Lumley of what appears to be a Civil War officer after a night of card playing and eating and drinking- Can anyone help me to identify who this could be? The face looks strikingly similar to Gen. Irvin McDowell of Bull Run/Battle of Manassas fame, a battle which Mr. Lumley was present with his work. Is there a catalog of Mr. Lumley’s paintings? Thank you for any help that you could be to me.

    • February 17, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

      Hi,

      Thanks for the comment! What a fantastic image to have- I would love to see it! I am not aware of any full catalogue of his work but it might be worth getting in touch with the Becker Collection to see can they help out at http://idesweb.bc.edu/becker/ I am sure they could provide some good advice- I would be interested in finding out how you got on!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

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