Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures (1904) Part 3

Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures by Albert Bigelow Paine. Published by The Macmillan Company, New York and London in 1904. 583 pages and over 425 illustrations. Available via Google Books.

This is part three of a series of posts about Paine's biography of the caricaturist Thomas Nast and research I did spurred on by reading the book. - DonkeyHotey

A Rebel guerrilla raid in a western town by Thomas Nast published 1862 - PD Source: Library of Congress

A Rebel guerrilla raid in a western town by Thomas Nast published 1862 - PD Source: Library of Congress

During the War of Succession citizens had to choose sides. Thomas Nast chose the side of the Union, the Republicans, Lincoln and Grant. His images illustrating the war and supporting union troops and families earned him rabid admirers and ferocious enemies for life.

Santa Claus in Camp by Thomas Nast published 1863 - PD Source: Library of Congress

Santa Claus in Camp by Thomas Nast published 1863 - PD Source: Library of Congress

Paine dedicates a bit of ink documenting the cartoons Nast produced during the Civil War. I felt it would be useful to list these and link to examples because presumably these are the images Nast thought were most important to him during that period. The images in the biography are not always clear and are sometimes turned on their side making them hard to examine. This is why I have used other sources. Some of the links below take you to a site called Son of the South that has a great collection of Harper's issues among other Civil War information. Be sure and visit that site and the others that are linked to. 

Each work listed may have two links. The title of the work will be linked to a large version of the image. Some works may have a second link that provides more information or an alternate view. If a second link is displayed it will be in the form of the abbreviation for the work alternative in parenthesis like this, (alt).

Some of Thomas Nast's important images of the early stages of the War included: “Sacking a Peaceful Village,” “A Gallant Color Bearer(alt) and “Guerrilla Raid in the West”. These illustrations served as propaganda tools for the North to encourage patriotic fervor and ultimately new recruits. Abraham Lincoln is quoted:

"Thomas Nast has been our best recruiting sergeant. His emblematic cartoons have never failed to arouse enthusiasm and patriotism, and have always seemed to come just when these articles were getting scarce."

A Household Name

As the war progressed Nast produced many cartoons that made him a household name. Paine makes specific mention of: “Santa Claus in Camp”, “Christmas Eve” (alt), “Emancipation” (alt), “War in the Border States” (alt) and “Southern Chivalry" (alt). The cut-line under the picture, "Christmas Eve", on page 85 states, “The Double Page Christmas Picture of 1882-3.” Paine also noted that it appeared in the “double centre page of the same issue” where the front page was occupied by “Santa Claus in Camp”.

Paine writes:

“Sixty-three marked the beginning of those semi-allegorical cartoons through which Thomas Nast made his first real fame. The earliest of these was entitled "Santa Claus in Camp", a front page of the Christmas Harper, representing the good Saint dressed in the Stars and Stripes, distributing presents in a military camp. But of far greater value was the double centre page of the same issue. This was entitled simply "Christmas Eve", and was one of those curious, decorative combination pictures so popular at that time. In a large Christmas wreath was the soldier's family at home, and in another the absent one by his camp-fire regarding the pictures of his loved ones. Smaller bits surrounded these— well-drawn and full of sentiment.” - Page 84
Christmas Eve by Thomas Nast published 1863 - PD Source: Library of Congress

Christmas Eve by Thomas Nast published 1863 - PD Source: Library of Congress

The caricaturist made trips to the front where he became acquainted with General Sheridan. He produces many pictures based on scenes he witnesses including: “Balloon Observations” - from a sketch made at the front in 1863, “Capture of the Heights of Fredericksburg” (alt) - later made into a painting titled “Saving the Flag” and “Arrival of the Federal Column” (alt) which became a large painting or picture “'61 to '65.” The war illustrator was held by the Union as a suspicious character during the Battle of Gettysburg due to a mix-up. Nast was shelled at Carlisle and documented this in a sketch titled “The Rebels Shelling The New York Militia In The Main Street Of Carlisle, Pennsylvania” (alt) in the July 25, 1863 issue of Harper's.

When Nast returns to New York he finds the city in the throws of the Draft Riots of July 1863. The artist witnesses many horrific acts including the “assault on the Tribune office.” Paine mentions that the artist made some quick sketches, but cites not a single picture by Nast published in Harper's or anywhere about this event. Some of the caricaturist's colleagues and associates at Harper's included, Alfred Rudolph “A.R.” Waud, Winslow Homer, Theodore R. Davis, Sol Eytinge, Frank Bellew, William Ludwell “W. L.” Sheppard, William Samuel Lyon “W. S. L.” Jewett, and Charles Green “C. G.” Bush. Paine also refers to “one or more of the Beard family” which probably would be Thomas Francis "Frank" Beard and James Carter Beard from the prominent family of artists headed by James Henry Beard and Mary Caroline Carter Beard. Nast, as portrayed in the biography, seems defensive about his lack of formal art training and the artistic quality of his work. It appears he took comfort in praise he received from fans of all social station, his fame and the real world response to his work. He might not have been the greatest artist that ever lived, but he was the greatest political caricaturist.

Nast's fame at Harper's, aka “A Journal of Civilization”, brought publishers to him seeking to capitalize on his work in other forms. “The Result of the War” and “The Domestic Blockade” were color paintings reproduced as prints and decorated walls in homes across America. The “Bluebeard of New Orleans” (alt) is a “specimen carte de visite sold by E. and H. T. Anthony”. The Bluebeard in question is Benjamin F. Butler who was to become a regular target of the caricaturist's pencil. Edward Anthony and Henry Tiebout Anthony were dealers and manufacturers of photographic equipment and supplies. They also produced a variety of stereographs and and other consumer products including carte de viste. Carte de viste were cardboard rectangles with photographs affixed on them. This early form of trading cards became popular world-wide during the “Cardomania” craze of the 1860's. The Anthony's commissioned Nast to produce caricatures of well known figures that were reproduced and sold in this format.

Nast's First Santa

"A Visit From St. Nicholas" by Thomas Nast published 1864 in  Christmas Poems and Pictures  by J. G. Gregory (Nast's first published Santa)

"A Visit From St. Nicholas" by Thomas Nast published 1864 in Christmas Poems and Pictures by J. G. Gregory (Nast's first published Santa)

According to Paine, Nast's first published Santa Claus was in "Christmas Poems and Pictures", issued by James G. Gregory 1863-4. The biographer also gave the title of "The First Harper Caricature" by Thomas Nast to a cartoon captioned "A New Plan to frighten Fine Old English Gentlemen" appearing in January of 1863. The cartoon depicts "a boy frightening John Bull with the cry of "Here Comes General Butler!" Nast submitted an illustration for the title page of Mrs. Grundy, Volume 1, Issues 1-12 (alt). Under the plate of this image Paine notes, “This drawing won a prize of one hundred dollars. About one hundred easily recognized faces may be picked out among those in the galleries and boxes. When it is remembered that these were drawn on wood and are here only slightly reduced, the ingenuity of the draughtsman will be realized.”

Thomas Nast went on to contribute illustrations for over one hundred books during his lifetime. His illustration of these works takes place over the years and is documented throughout the book at appropriate times. Paine does not provide this number and I can only find a couple of references to it. Some the best known titles today are Robinson Crusoe (alt1) (alt2), Hans Brinker (alt), The Pickwick Papers, Rip Van-Winkle, Visit From St. Nickolas ('Twas the Night Before Christmas), Santa Claus and his works, and Thomas Nast's Christmas Drawings for the Human Race.

In his day, these books were also among the titles of great interest: Josh Billings: His Works Complete Works over 100 Illustrations by Thomas Nast and others, The President's message,1887, Swinging Round the Cirkle by Petroleum V. Nasby Illustrated by Thomas Nast and Ekkoes from Kentucky by Petroleum V. Nasby Illustrated by Thomas Nast. Nasby and Nast were quite a popular combination.

The following four “half-allegorical” cartoons, published in Harper's in the final weeks of 1863, received accolades and condemnation in great quantity from all quarters. These four include: “Honor The Brave” (alt), “Thanksgiving Day Alter” (alt), “The Story of Our Drummer Boy” and “The Christmas Furlough" (alt).

Compromise with the South - Dedicated to the Chicago Convention by Thomas Nast published 1864 - PD Source: Library of Congress

Compromise with the South - Dedicated to the Chicago Convention by Thomas Nast published 1864 - PD Source: Library of Congress

The great caricaturist changed his tone for this cartoon published in January of 1864. “New Years Day, North and South” (alt) was designed to inspire reconciliation. Other illustrations singled out in 1864 included “Winter in Central Park" (alt), “Columbia Decorating Grant" (alt), “On to Richmond" (alt), “Compromise with the South" (alt), and “The Chicago Peace Party Convention" (alt).

“Compromise with the South” was published after the conclusion of the actual Democratic Convention in Chicago, aka Chicago Peace Party Convention, where a component of the platform was “compromise with the South” or peace at any price. Millions of copies were reprinted and circulated making it one of the most influential images of Nast's career.

"The cartoon of Nast represented the defiant Southerner clasping hands with the crippled Northern soldier over the grave of Union heroes fallen in a useless war. Columbia is bowed in sorrow, and in the background is a negro family, again in chains." - Page 98

The Chicago Platform was a double page spread that included twenty distinct images ridiculing the Convention and the Platform it gave birth to.

Harper's editorialized about these two iconic efforts:

“Nobody can ever estimate what these two cartoons added to the majorities of Lincoln and Johnson, but it is believed that they gained many thousands of votes for the Union cause. Harper's Weekly, in an article somewhat later, referred to them as " prodigious batteries whose influence upon the glorious results of the campaign was undeniable." - Page 102

As 1864 was drawing to a close the master of the pencil produced “Christmas of 1864” (alt) featuring Lincoln pointing to the empty dining chairs inviting the secessionists to come in from the cold.

On April 4, 1865 Lincoln traveled to Richmond in triumph and was greeted by large crowd of Virginians excited about the coming end of the war. This event would be a subject for Harper's center pages titled “The Eve of War and the Dawn of the Peace" (alt). Nast would later make this into a painting. In this same April 29, 1865 issue on the adjacent page were illustrations of the April 14 assassination of President Lincoln at Ford's Theater. These images were not drawn by Lincoln's long time admirer. Nast's first representation of the tragedy was a powerful work with only one word, “Lincoln” emblazoned on the skirt over the “bier” below Lincoln's coffin. Columbia is weeping with her hand on the flag draped on the coffin. Candles are lit and service men are weeping. His next rendering related to the assassination was titled “Victory and Death” (alt) published as a vertical double-truck on June 10, 1865. This was a haunting scene of a warrior kneeling before a crowned robe wrapped skeleton holding a spear or arrow. There are five side panels and an inset with a poem. The poem in a box below the kneeling soldier is:

Death Level All Things, In His March,
Nought Can Resist His Mighty Strength
The Palace Proud, Triumphal Arch.
Shall Mete Their Shadows Length.

On the image the poem is attributed to “Marvel” which I also see referenced in the The Every-day book and Table book. A Google search produces conflicting suggestions as to the correct attribution for the poem.


The Peace Cartoon


“Peace – Fourth of July, 1865” was another double page work was published on July 8, 1865. Pain notes the image was:

"suggested by Grant's magnanimous order - 'Let them keep their mules and horses - they will need them for the spring ploughing.'" This image features a giant winged woman suggestive of the Nike the Greek Goddess of Victory in a field of soldiers returning from the war. A giant male winged figure is holding a torch is moving away in the dark background. This work was recreated as a painting titled "Peace Again." - Page 104


Nast supported Reconstruction, and illustrated the dilemma facing the country on August 5, 1865 in two side-by-side full page cartoons, "Pardon" and "Franchise" (alt1) (alt2) Paine voices Nast's strong feelings of disgust with Andrew Johnson's actions to restore the Union without guaranteeing the franchise for former slaves while restoring Confederates to their former positions. Paine wrote:

“Johnson went over, body and soul, to the enemy - to those whom he had sought for years to crush and destroy - to those who had reviled him in words such as newspapers no longer print. Why Johnson should have done this remains an unsolved problem.” - Page 107

Included in the pages of the biography is an unpublished work and the first “Andy” cartoon that contains the words “How The Stains Of Our Flag Are Got Rid Of". Another cartoon published in response to Johnson's policies was "Democracy" (alt1) (alt2) on November 11, 1865.

Peace would be a theme again in "National Thanksgiving" (alt) on December 7, 1865. This is a large six panel display featuring Andrew Johnson's 1865 Thanksgiving Proclamation in the bottom center. For Christmas another December double-truck featured Santa Claus and is captioned “A Merry Christmas to All" (alt).

To the generation of Americans alive when Paine's book was published Nast's work during the Civil War was in the past. At the time he was most famous for other efforts. Paine wrote:

“Yet the majority of men and women today do not associate Nast with the war period. They remember him as the destroyer of Tweed and recall his connection with the campaigns of Greeley and Blaine.” - Page 106


The next post in this series will describe Nast's work creating the Opera Ball Caricatures, the Johnson Administration and some description of his process.

NEXT - Thomas Nast 4