Civil War Wednesday: Alfred R. Waud

  • Waud’s initial sketch of Lee’s surrender

    Highlighting the changes from the field to the final version, (at left) Waud’s initial sketch of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-21320, and (at right) the printed sketch, as appearing in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, vol.4.

Alexander Gardner photograph of Alfred Waud, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-19623
Alexander Gardner photograph of Alfred Waud, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-19623

Sketching the American Civil War brought fame to Great Britain native Alfred Rudolph Waud (pronounced Wode). In 1850, this foreign-trained artist arrived in America seeking a job as a scene painter for the burgeoning theater houses of the period. While awaiting an opportunity in this field, Waud worked as a sketch artist for several New England newspapers. In 1861, the coming of war brought unprecedented opportunities for skilled artisans such as Waud, his brother William, and the “war-artist” who accompanied Major General William T. Sherman during the Atlanta Campaign – Theodore R. Davis. Prior to the Battle of First Bull Run/Manassas, Waud received an assignment from employer New York Illustrated News to “…accompany the army through the campaign.”[1] For the balance of the war, Waud followed the Federal Army of the Potomac, witnessing all the major battles in the eastern theater. He left the Illustrated News for Harper’s Weekly near the end of 1861; at war’s end, Waud amassed 129 scenes for the News, and another 215 images for Harper’s.[2]


During the Civil War, photographers struggled with an art form still in a static state. Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, George Barnard, and other shutterbugs took to the battlefields across the country, but with an inability to capture objects in motion. Portraying the thrill of action during battle fell to the skillful hands of Waud and other sketch artists. Dramatic changes often occurred from what the eyewitness observer outlined on the field of battle, compared to the printed images, which appeared in newspapers across the land. After sketching a scene, Waud and others would send their work, either overland or via ship, whichever method provided the quickest delivery to the point of destination – their respective publishers. Once at the printer, typically, several engravers would each receive a segment of the sketch to carve into a wooden block. The finished blocks, assembled and mounted together, formed a foundation for a metallic plate used on the printing press. The image of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox shown above illustrates how these images could evolve from the field to press.[3]

Escaping danger on more than one occasion, as he came under Confederate fire, Waud survived the war and led a very busy life during the post-war and Reconstruction periods. He traveled to several states in the west, where he sketched frontier village scenes; he even made his way to Chicago to cover the Great Fire of 1871. Waud’s various employers during the latter stages of the nineteenth century certainly got a bang for their buck!


Hoping to capitalize on the various battles fought within Georgia, and boost travel on the Western & Atlantic Railroad (W&A), Joseph M. Brown, son of wartime Governor Joseph E. Brown, who served as traffic manager for the W&A, hired Waud in 1887. His mission for the artist – visit all the major battle sites in Georgia and sketch the terrain. Waud set about his journey, and along the way he interviewed many veterans to gain first-hand knowledge of how the fighting played out at sites of the Atlanta Campaign. His wonderful illustrations appeared in what today one would call a travel guide. In 1890, Brown titled the work The Mountain Campaigns in Georgia; Or, War Scenes on the W. & A. Pleased with the success of this venture, Brown asked Waud to remain in the south, travel to other battlefields outside the state, and sketch various scenes for a multi-volume work Brown planned to publish. Waud consented. During one of these sketching trips, he fell ill; after making his way back to Marietta, Waud received medical care in Brown’s home until April 6, 1891, when a husband, and father of four breathed his last at age 62. Despite initial desires among family members to have his body returned to his home in South Orange New Jersey, for burial, he received internment in Marietta’s St. James Episcopal Cemetery.

Waud’s gravesite in Marietta, Georgia, at the St. James Episcopal Cemetery, photo courtesy of author.
Waudâs gravesite in Marietta, Georgia, at the St. James Episcopal Cemetery, photo courtesy of author.

The Civil War’s most noted sketch artist left a legacy in the form of almost 2,300 images, housed today at the Library of Congress, which has digitized many of them for online viewing.[4] Follow this link to the Library of Congress, and enjoy the work of a very gifted artist!

[1] Frederic E. Ray, Alfred R. Waud, Civil War Artist (New York: Viking Press, 1974), 14.

[2] Ibid., 52.

[3] Ibid., 28.

[4] Terry L. Jones, Historical Dictionary of the Civil War (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2002), 2:1535.



Michael Shaffer

Michael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center. He is a Civil War historian, author, and newspaper columnist, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians. He serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and assists the Friends of Camp McDonald as a Civil War consultant.