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Column of Zouaves Halted

William McIlvaine was an unusual documentarian of the American Civil War. He was not only a professional artist, but also a soldier. After receiving formal art training at the University of Pennsylvania and in Europe, he exhibited and published topographical landscape sketches. Although working as a full-time artist in New York City, he abandoned it all at the age of forty-six to enlist in the Advance Guard of the New York Zouaves. The Zouaves were an elite military unit that adopted the dress and drill of the namesake French infantry unit originally composed of Algerians. They were known for their brilliant uniforms with red knickers and quick-spirited drills.

Like many other the Civil War artists, McIlvaine concentrated primarily on camp life, rather than on the carnage of war. Even this rare battle scene seems a bit tame. It shows his regiment at the onset of a confrontation with the Confederates, who didn’t even merit inclusion. While cannonballs appear in the foreground, only two soldiers have fallen and they don’t seem to be mortally wounded. The primary purpose of such drawings was to honor the bravery of his unit. Despite their subjectivity, McIvaine’s more than eighty sketches and watercolors of his Civil War experience provide an invaluable visual resource for historians of American art and the Civil War. The Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection includes a second watercolor by McIlvaine, Jr., Buildings, Camp Federal Hill (Eskenazi Museum of Art 91.278).

William McIlvaine, Jr.
American, 1813–1867
Column of Zouaves Halted
1861
Watercolor and gouache over graphite on paper
Image/sheet: 5 x 7 1/16 in. (12.7 x 17.9 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Morton and Marie Bradley Memorial, 91.279