Kurz and Allison on Fort Pillow

The Kurz and Allison series of battle prints remain a favorite with many people, including dust jacket designers. The soldiers are usually neat, the uniforms crisp, and the battlelines long and straight. Some terrain details are off, and a few of the representations leave something to be desired when it comes to historical accuracy (Stonewall Jackson’s shot in broad daylight, for example). The horrors of war are minimized, as dead and wounded bodies are neatly intact, and there’s a minimum of carnage.

And then you come across this:

Fort Pillow 2 (2)


Sometimes, when we talk about the cult of reconciliation, we might remember that not everyone bought into it.

12 thoughts on “Kurz and Allison on Fort Pillow

    • Brooks D. Simpson September 20, 2013 / 10:24 pm

      It may have been, but Kurz and Allison didn’t portray it.

  1. Thelibertylamp September 21, 2013 / 12:47 am

    As the predecessor to photography, printing was a way for the “people” to be able to own art. This process of chromolithography gave the ordinary person the ability to posses an image the represents art.

    There is a constant battle between graphic design and art.

    In their graphic design work, Kurtz and Allison created many of their images for the purpose of making their audience happy. They were the masters of design and marketing their created craft project to sell.

    This being the very tail end of the Romantic era, it played to a propaganda trend of this time. This reminds me of how Napoleon used art in same scheme to shed the best himself. One painting that comes to mind is the painted scene of Napoleon and the lepers in Jaffa, where Napoleon was painted as a Jesus image touching the lepers. Much of that painting was created and not true to the actual event.

    And yet, there then comes a time when the artist comes out and wants to create the image from the heart to make a point. If you scratch the surface of any graphic designer, you will find this heart.

    My guess, this was a deliberate and purposeful image they made for their own piece of mind, and maybe perhaps help elevate their provincial American audience into realism?

    Personally, I find this style of art completely uninteresting, but, from a documentary perspective is has value. IMHO art really doesn’t start waking up until Post Impressionism/Expressionism.

  2. Tony September 21, 2013 / 5:36 am

    My ancestor was there, 5th Mississippi Cavalry. Maybe I should erect a 50 foot black flag along the interstate in his honor 🙂

  3. SF Walker September 21, 2013 / 6:09 am

    Weren’t all these prints done in the 1870s?

    • Brooks D. Simpson September 21, 2013 / 8:12 am

      No. They were done in the late 1880s. I have several of them on my wall.

  4. Mark H. Dunkelman September 21, 2013 / 6:37 am

    I know little about Fort Pillow. Were women and children present as depicted, and were any of them among the casualties?

  5. Doug didier September 21, 2013 / 10:00 am

    Purchased copy of print at auction in D.C. many years ago. At the time and for many years knew nothing of the incident. Suppose at the time, forgotten history.

  6. SF Walker September 22, 2013 / 6:58 am

    I’ve seen lots of these prints in various books on the Civil War. It seems like they depicted most of the major battles, including Nashville, where they show an assault by the USCT. In fact, it’s the only artwork I’ve ever seen of this battle.

  7. James F. Epperson September 22, 2013 / 7:47 am

    I have one of the published books of the Kurtz and Allison prints. Unfortunately, our dog (Bobbie Lee, named for the general) chewed up the edges a bit.

  8. Lyle Smith September 22, 2013 / 8:10 am

    What an apropos posting considering what has been transpiring in Nairobi, Kenya over the last 24 hours.

    I spent hours poring over a Kurz and Allison coffee table size book as a child. This particular lithograph made it pretty clear to me, even at 4 or 5 years old, what the Civil War was really about.

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