Army Life in Brush Stroke: Frederick E. Ransom's Sketchbook MENU
Saved for the Future: In October 2016, Ransom’s sketchbook was given to UCLA’s Library Special Collections, which conserved the fragile volume, removing tape and properly mending torn pages. Next to a short autobiography, Ransom’s opening artwork depicts Vandalia, Ill., townsfolk cheering as the new soldiers of the 11th Illinois head off to Springfield on April 26, 1861, to muster into the Union Army.

Army Life in Brush Strokes

By Dana B. Shoaf
DECEMBER 2017 • CIVIL WAR TIMES MAGAZINE

A Union veteran completed a remarkable sketchbook of his war service

Frederick E. Ransom came from a distinguished military family. His father, Truman, served as the head of Vermont’s Norwich University, a respected military academy, and died at Chapultepec leading the 9th U.S. Infantry during the Mexican War. In 1856, Frederick moved to Illinois with his older brother, Thomas, where they worked as civil engineers. When the Civil War began, Thomas raised Company E of the 11th Illinois, and Frederick enlisted in that unit. Thomas became a highly respected brigadier general in the 15th Corps, and died of disease in 1864. Another older brother, Dunbar, served as a Regular Army colonel. Frederick did not rise as high as his brothers, but he did become a lieutenant in 1863. And happily, Frederick avoided the fate of his father and Thomas and survived his wartime experience. In 1892 the aging veteran went to live at the Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home in Quincy. While there, he sketched and painted scenes—some grim, some glad—from the momentous years of his youth –D.B.S.

Recycled: Ransom used discarded Soldier’s Home morning report forms and nursery order forms for his artwork. In the image at top, a wounded Union trooper lies pinned under his dead horse. With dark humor, Ransom captioned the watercolor, “A Subject for a Pension,” alluding to the horseman’s injury.

Water Warrior: During his Western Theater service, Ransom likely came in contact with Union sailors who crewed the boats that prowled inland rivers, bombarding Confederate forts and transporting infantrymen. The artist may have drawn this sailor from memory, or perhaps he depicted a fellow home resident.

Swap Meet: Union and Confederate soldiers trade items from their haversacks, probably the common Union coffee-for–Confederate tobacco swap. Such exchanges were often forbidden by orders, but in this case, a Confederate officer crosses his arms and simply watches the proceedings take place. Ransom set the illustration on top of an American flag. There was no doubt of his allegiance.

Goodbye Mother: In the sketch at left, Ransom gives his mother, Margaretta, a hug goodbye before falling in with the 11th. She was hardened to having the men in her life leave for war, and told her 20-year-old son, “Remember your Mother, and face the foe bravely, my boy.” He did, on both accounts, and was wounded at Fort Donelson and Vicksburg.

Furry Yank: Ransom obviously had a fondness for“Old Heenan,” depicted at top, the regiment’s dog mascot. Note the regimental numeral “11” on the hound’s collar, for the 11th Illinois.

Words to Live By: “Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty,” was the motto of the Grand Army of the Republic, the largest Federal veterans’ organization. It used its 400,000 members to lobby the American goverment for veterans’ pensions and benefits.

Military Surplus: In some of his sketches, Ransom attempted more artistic layouts. Below, his depiction of well-worn accoutrements is placed over other images that suggest battlefield and camp. The effect gives depth to the composition.

House of Pain: No commentary is provided for Richmond’s Libby Prison. Ransom was captured at Fort Donelson in February 1862 and sent to Libby. He was paroled in October of that same year.

Portrait of the Artist: On the sketchbook’s last page, Ransom depicted himself as a youthful soldier and included his service record. He lived in the Soldiers’ Home for 26 years, dying on May 10, 1918.

 

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