Winslow Homer, Army Teamsters

Winslow Homer, Army Teamsters, 1866, oil on canvas, 45.72 x 72.39 cm (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond)

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Homer, Army Teamsters

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Key points

  • During the United States Civil War, Winslow Homer was an artist correspondent for Harper’s Weekly Illustrated Magazine. On various occasions, he traveled with the U.S. (Union) Army and made sketches of what he observed of battles, camp life, and other aspects of military operations. He sent his sketches to Harper’s to make engravings and publish the images as part of their reporting on the war to a largely northern audience. During and after the war, Homer turned a number of his sketches into paintings. 
  • In this painting, the U.S. Army is identified by the three-lobed symbol for a specific corps and division on the tent and by the blue kepi cap, of the type given to enlisted U.S. soldiers, worn by the figure second from right.
  • Both Black men and women contributed to the efforts of the U.S Army during the war. While initially barred from enlisting, self-emancipated people nonetheless sought safe haven in army camps. These refugees provided labor as personal servants, cooks, launderers, stevedores, teamsters, and builders. In 1862, Black men were legally allowed to enlist, most frequently serving in labor detail rather than combat.  
  • Teamsters drove the wagons and cared for the pack animals that furnished the U.S. Army supply line. The work of sustaining the massive U.S. Army with food, ammunition, and other necessities was essential as well as dangerous work given that the northern forces fought primarily in the South during the war. 
  • Representations of Black people in the popular press and minstrelsy in the 19th century often employed negative stereotyping and caricature. Homer begins to break with these conventions by drawing on sketches from life and emphasizing the humanity of his subjects.

Go deeper

Educator Resources on Black Soldiers Serving with the U.S. Military during the Civil War, from the National Archives

The United States Colored Troops, from Encyclopedia Virginia

An Educator Resource on the United States Colored Troops, from the United States Civil War Museum

Experiences of the U.S. Civil War: The work of war Experiences of the U.S. Civil War: Refugees and displacement, from “The U.S. Civil War in Art” by Smarthistory

Homer’s image of a Sharpshooter on Picket Duty, a video by Smarthistory

More to think about

Why do you think Homer continued to make images of the war after it was over?

Images of wartime, even if not of battle scenes, can elicit strong emotional responses. In this regard, can you compare the responses to Homer’s painting mentioned in the video with the impact of images of more contemporary conflicts, in our own time? What is similar and different?

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

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Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.