Manhood in Civil War Cartoons

The Civil War Cartoon collection at AAS was donated by Dr. Samuel B. Woodward in 1934. It consists of over 600 newspaper clippings each containing a cartoon about any and all aspects of the Civil War. Because the cartoons were delivered to the Antiquarian Society as clippings, many of them are out of context and often it is not clear which newspaper they may have come from. However, some clippings do list their source, and one source that appears quite frequently throughout the collection is Frank Leslie’s Budget of Fun.

Frank Leslie (1821-1880) was a British native who immigrated to North America in 1848. He was a well known engraver, publisher, and illustrator and the work that he and his associates undertook of illustrating the Civil War received much praise. The collection contains clippings from Budget of Fun beginning in 1859 and ending in 1867.  Excerpts from this publication which are present in the collection depict an entire range of subjects from excessive drinking among soliders to Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis parodies. One theme that really stands out is that of recruiting Union Soldiers, as seen in the two full pages illustrated to the right (click on the full pages bottom right to view larger images). 

One of the images is a cartoon entitled “The Conscription in Prospect – The Would-Be Exempts” from May 1863 and it parodies evasion of the Enrollment Act of 1863. The Enrollment Act was passed by the Federal government to supply new troops to the Union Army, but this form of conscription caused a lot of unrest in the North and led to the New York Draft riots. The law allowed for men to pay substitutes to enlist in their stead, but this led to widespread desertion.

It seems that there was still a great need for more soldiers, because the next tactic depicted in Budget of Fun encouraged women to make the men in their lives feel obligated to go and fight. In “The art of inspiring courage” which appeared in October 1863, Leslie parodies this task of women. Most of the methods tout emasculation as an effective means of persuasion. In one scene you will see a woman has dressed up in her husband’s clothes and threatened to go to war in his stead. There are also two scenes with an older man encouraging his son to fight. The more efficient way to do this is by convincing your son that joining the army is a way for him to support himself, then there is the “less economical means,” which suggests you buy him a commission in the army.

Based on these examples, it seems that for some young men the main impetus for going to war was tied up with a personal sense of honor and masculinity rather than only the stated need to preserve the Union or serve one’s country.

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  1. Pingback: War at Home and on the Battlefield | war and humanity

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