After Winslow Homer, The Army of the Potomac—A Sharp-Shooter on Picket Duty, published 1862, wood engraving on newsprint, Avalon Fund
Sent by Harper’s to the front as an artist-correspondent during the Civil War, Homer captured the essential modernity of the conflict in such images as The Army of the Potomac—A Sharp-Shooter on Picket Duty. While traditional battle pictures usually depicted, in the words of a contemporary, “long lines…led on by generals in cocked hats,” Homer instead shows a solitary figure who, using new rifle technology, is able to fire from a distance and remain unseen by his target.
The subject of this engraving is based on Homer's first oil painting. An emblematic image of the Civil War, the lone figure of a sharpshooter reveals the changing nature of modern warfare. With new, mass-produced weapons such as rifled muskets, killing became distant, impersonal, and efficiently deadly. Despite public admiration for sharpshooters' skill, ordinary soldiers looked upon them as cold-blooded, mechanical killers. Many years after the war, Homer wrote an old friend, "I looked through one of their rifles once....The...impression struck me as being as near murder as anything I could think of in connection with the army and I always had a horror of that branch of the service."