Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

"I Am Busy Drawing Pictures": The Civil War Art and Letters of Private John Jacob Omenhausser, CSA

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

"I Am Busy Drawing Pictures": The Civil War Art and Letters of Private John Jacob Omenhausser, CSA

Article excerpt

"I Am Busy Drawing Pictures": The Civil War Art and Letters of Private John Jacob Omenhausser, CSA. By Ross M. Kimmel and Michael P. Musick. Foreword by Gary W. Gallagher. (Annapolis: Friends of the Maryland State Archives, 2014. Pp. x, 177. $45.00, ISBN 978-0-942370-65-2.)

John Jacob Omenhausser, a private in the Richmond Light Infantry Blues of the Forty-sixth Virginia Infantry, left behind an unusual legacy of drawings and watercolors made during his time in uniform. Omenhausser enlisted on April 21, 1861, traveling with his regiment through Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. He was captured by the enemy twice, the second time resulting in his imprisonment for nearly a year at Point Lookout, Maryland. Most of his artwork dates from his stint as a prisoner of war, during which time he produced art for sale. Ross M. Kimmel and Michael P. Musick tracked down 290 artworks in public and private collections and have published a selection, using newly discovered correspondence to attribute them to Omenhausser. The volume includes a meticulously researched overview of Omenhausser's wartime experiences, as well as an appendix with transcriptions of his surviving correspondence, most of it with his future wife, Ann Virginia Howie.

The watercolors do not depict scenes of battle but instead capture vividly the mundane activities and hardships of soldiers' lives. Although the work of an artist with limited training, they show the influence of contemporary cartooning in their use of humorous dialogue to enliven scenes of camp and prison life. The authors argue persuasively that Omenhausser's images of the Point Lookout prison camp are noteworthy, chronicling its layout, the black market, and the racial tensions between prisoners and their African American guards. …

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