Civil War, "Bloody Shirt," and Black Americans


 “The ‘Silent' (Democratic) Majority”
  Cartoonist:  Thomas Nast
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   August 28, 1880, pp. 552-553

Click to see a large version of this cartoon...

Click to see a large version of this cartoon

Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
During the Civil War, Confederate General Robert E. Lee's second attempted invasion of the North culminated in the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, when Confederate and Union troops fought on the fields outside Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. On July 4, Lee and his men were finally forced to retreat back to Confederate territory in Virginia. The Union victory at Gettysburg, along with the simultaneous surrender of the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi, to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, is considered one of the major turning points of the Civil War. General Winfield Hancock commanded the Union Army Second Corps at the Battle of Gettysburg.

On the first day of the battle, after Lee's troops drove the Union soldiers to Cemetery Hill, Hancock and General Oliver Howard rallied Union forces, sending some to occupy Culp's Hill. On the second day, Hancock and General George Sykes successfully defended Cementery Ridge against Confederate attacks. On the third and final day, Hancock was among the Union military leadership who stood firm at Cemetery Ridge, repelling the famous Pickett's charge by Confederate troops. General Hancock was severely wounded in the action. For his brave service to the Union, Hancock received the official Thanks of Congress.

At first glance, this double-page Harper's Weekly cartoon by Thomas Nast pays homage to Hancock's heroics during the Battle of Gettysburg. The artist places the 1880 Democratic presidential nominee before rows of the graves of Confederate soldiers who died because of his military leadership for the Union cause. On closer inspection, though, it is a harsh, discourteous condemnation of Hancock's association with the Democratic party. Cartoonist Thomas Nast, in line with the general policy of Harper's Weekly, persistently "waved the bloody shirt" by portraying Democrats as Confederate sympathizers. Here, the dead Confederate soldiers at Gettysburg are Democrats who are unable to cast their ballots for Hancock, as their surviving Confederate counterparts in the Democratic party will. Nast's message, in fact, comes close to accusing Hancock of treason.

(Note that the phrase "silent majority," used by President Richard Nixon in 1969 to designate middle-class Americans who support his policy in Vietnam, was already in use in the 19th century.)













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