If you are familiar with Francis Trevelyan Miller’s Photographic History of the Civil War, you’re aware that wartime photographs were not published until shortly before 1911, when that monumental 10-volume work came out.
That explains why, when in the mid-1880s Richard Watson Gilder and Clarence Clough Buel conceived a multipart series on the war for Century Magazine, they turned to renowned illustrators such as Edwin Forbes, Theodore Davis, the Waud brothers…
…and William L. Sheppard.
Born in Richmond in 1833, Sheppard joined the Richmond Howitzers and rose to lieutenant. After the war he resumed his art career, drawing for Harper’s Weekly, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated, and other magazines.
Among other works, his drawings are found in James Longstreet’s From Manassas to Appomattox (1896), Joseph Derry’s Story of the Confederate States (1895), and Carlton McCarthy’s Detailed Minutiae of Soldier Life in the Army of Northern Virginia, 1861-1865 (1882).
Most of us, however, know Sheppard’s work from Battles and Leaders—more than a dozen drawings.
“It is probably safe to say, there is no one who studies the American Civil War who has not seen the initials ‘W.L.S.,’” wrote Ulrich Troubetzoy in an appreciation that appeared in the December 1962 issue of Civil War Times Illustrated.
Sheppard was also a watercolorist. Iconic images depict a Confederate infantryman, cavalryman, and artilleryman, as Sheppard remembered them through the years. (Note that many of Sheppard’s Rebels sport goatees, which was the hirsute adornment the artist himself adopted postwar.)
Other watercolors are today to be seen in Richmond’s American Civil War Museum, among them: “Opening Spring Campaign in Valley of Virginia”; “Newspapers in the Trenches ’64”; and “Company Q. Stragglers.” The Virginia Museum of History and Culture, also in Richmond, holds a unique collection of Sheppard illustrated cartes-de-visite.
Sheppard made Richmond his home after the war. He died in 1912 and is buried in Hollywood Cemetery.
Among his most noted achievements was his design for the oft-pictured statue to the Richmond Howitzers that was cast by Caspar Buberl. It stood at Park Avenue and Harrison Street in the Virginia capital until torn down during citywide protests in 2020.
It may be gone, but as Ms. Troubetzoy wrote decades ago, “W.L.S.” will be initials on illustrations that Civil War enthusiasts will be recognizing for years more to come.
This article first appeared in America’s Civil War magazine
Stephen Davis, an ACW Advisory Board member, writes from Cumming, Ga. He is co-author, with Bill Hendrick, of The Atlanta Daily Intelligencer Covers the Civil War (University of Tennessee Press, 2022).