Civil War Political Cartoons2021-02-03T17:16:35-05:00

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Civil War Political Cartoons

These cartoons demonstrate the conflicting expectations of women during the Civil War.

“Sowing and Reaping”

“Sowing and Reaping,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, May 23, 1863 (New York: F. Leslie). University of Virginia Library Online Exhibits.

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“The Art of Inspiring Courage”

Frank Leslie, “The Art of Inspiring Courage” Cartoon, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, October 1863. Tulane University.

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Background

As in earlier American conflicts, women were popular subjects of political cartoons during the Civil War. Artists in the Union and the Confederacy featured women prominently in their work to represent the general civilian experience of the war. Women were also featured to explore how the war was breaking down antebellum gender expectations.

About the Image

These two cartoons are from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. Both deal with women’s roles in promoting enlistment in the Union and Confederate armies, but they have very different tones.

“Sowing and Reaping,” published in May 1863, mocks Southern women for encouraging men to join the Confederate Army. In the “sowing” panel, idealized drawings of genteel Southern women are shown waving their men off to war, in full support of their enlistment. In the “reaping” panel, the same women have been ravaged by the war. Dressed in rags and emaciated, they are shown fighting in the streets for bread. This second panel was based on a real event that took place in Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital, on April 1, 1863. With hungry families at home, the women of Richmond rioted to protest food shortages. Their behavior was viewed as appalling and inappropriate. This cartoon lays some blame for the food shortage on the women themselves because they promoted participation in the war.

“The Art of Inspiring Courage” was published in October 1863, six months after “Sowing and Reaping.” Published at a time when Union enlistment was falling, and people were rioting to protest the new draft, it offers humorous advice about how Union women can pressure men into joining the Union Army. It is fascinating that this cartoon was published after “Sowing and Reaping.” Evidently the staff of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper did not believe Union women would suffer the same dire consequences as their Confederate counterparts.

Vocabulary

  • Antebellum: Before the American Civil War.
  • civilian: A person who is not in the armed forces.
  • Confederate: Relating to the group of states that seceded from the United States before the Civil War in order to preserve slavery.
  • emaciated: Very thin and malnourished.
  • enlistment: Signing up to join an army.
  • Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper: A weekly newspaper published in the Union.
  • reaping: Harvesting.
  • sowing: Planting.
  • Union: The name for the states that remained a part of the United States during the Civil War.

Discussion Questions

  • What does “Sowing and Reaping” reveal about Union attitudes toward Confederate women during the Civil War?
  • What tactics does “The Art of Inspiring Courage” recommend Union women use to inspire their men to enlist in the Union Army? What do these tactics reveal about gender roles in the nineteenth century?
  • When considered together, what message do these cartoons send to readers of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper? What particular message do they send to women readers?
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Suggested Activities

Themes

POWER AND POLITICS

Source Notes
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