Sketching Missouri’s Civil War

Iowa sketch artist Alexander Simplot was to the Trans-Mississippi Theater as Alfred Waud was to the East. With pencil and paper in hand and the pseudonym “A.S. Leclerc,” Simplot was tasked by Harper’s Weekly and the New York Illustrated News to visually document the Civil War in action from 1861 to 1863, particularly focusing on the war along and west of the Mississippi River. Interestingly enough, he was assigned to the Army of the West in the summer and early fall of 1861, and sketched parts of Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon’s campaign through Missouri. Simplot also sketched in St. Louis soon after, where he drew scenes of naval engineer James Eads’ gunboats and the Department of the West.

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Alexander Simplot’s portrait on the left, with a drawing made of a Civil War sketch artist in action. Courtesy of FindaGrave and George Mason University.

A native of Dubuque, Iowa, Simplot was born in 1837 into one of the most wealthy families of the region. Though looked down upon by his successful father, he developed a love of art at an early age. When civil war broke out in April 1861, Simplot had already graduated from Union College in New York and was working as a teacher in his hometown. A demand for sketch artists by newspapers encouraged him to sketch local scenes of the war. After visually documenting the mobilization of Iowa troops in Dubuque, Simplot sent his work to Harper’s Weekly, who immediately expressed interest in further employing him as a special artist. He had found his calling.

With the situation in adjacent Missouri beginning to crumble by early summer of 1861, he was sent south to sketch the impending crisis. Below, see a sampling of Simplot’s sketches in 1861 Missouri.

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“Hospital & yard for condemned Gov’t horses & mules at St. Louis, Mo.” Courtesy of the Missouri History Museum.
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“Residence & Head Quarters of Gen’l Fremont in St. Louis.” Courtesy of the Missouri History Museum.
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“Springfield, Mo.” Courtesy of the Missouri History Museum.
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“Gen’l Grant at the Battle of Belmont.” Courtesy of Encyclopedia Dubuque.
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“Plaza at Springfield – Missouri – Civil War.” Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
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“Conveying provisions over the Ozark Mountains to the Army at Springfield, Mo.” Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
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“Building rafts, on Pontoons, upon which to mount huge mortars – for use on the river. Scene at St. Louis.” Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

 

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“Scene Near Tipton, on the Missouri Prairie.” Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In total, Simplot drew over 50 images of the Civil War in Missouri in 1861, giving us historians a fantastic insight into the war in this state. Unlike photography, sketching allowed artists to draw action scenes and battles. Those images showed civilians a raw look into the war. Considered by some to be the unluckiest sketch artist of the war with him missing many large-scale battles, Simplot was at least able to sketch the early war in Missouri. Luckily for us, we have Simplot’s drawings of many scenes of logistics, soldiering, and combat, which give us a glimpse into this critical period in Missouri.


Sources: 

Martin, Richard. “Alexander Simplot — Artist.” The Palimpsest 46 (1965), 7-16.

Roth, Mitchel P. Historical Dictionary of War Journalism. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997.

 

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