Sunday, April 3, 2011

Metzner and Peake: "BLOOD SHED IN THIS WAR: Civil War Illustrations by Captain Adolph Metzner, 32nd Indiana"

[Blood Shed in This War: Civil War Illustrations by Captain Adolph Metzner, 32nd Indiana by Michael A. Peake  (Indiana Historical Society Press, 2010). Hardcover, color plates, bibliography, index. 142 Pages. ISBN:978-0-87195-269-1 $34.95]

Born in 1834 in the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg and educated as a pharmacist, Adolph Metzner immigrated to the U.S. in 1856. He settled in Louisville, Kentucky but when the Civil War broke out he crossed the border and joined a "German" Indiana infantry regiment (the 32nd). Camped with his comrades, Metzner crafted what would become an expansive series of pencil and pen sketches and watercolor paintings. Accompanied by Michael Peake's short chapter biography of Metzner and his overview history of the 32nd's war service, these images have been reproduced in full color in Blood Shed in This War.

Metzner's personal portraits and camp, landscape, and battlefield scenes range from amusing caricatures to deadly serious subject matter. As examples of the former, he depicts his division (and later corps) commander Alexander McCook as an enormously fat figure and inserts his caricatures of regimental comedian Jacob Lawinsky into many camp scenes. More serious material includes several drawings and paintings of the casualties of war, among the most gruesome a watercolor showing two headless Confederate bodies propped against a tree, tongues lolling from bloody neck stumps. The subjects of Metzner's portrait drawings are more often fellow officers like Henry von Treba and August Willich than enlisted men. Many of the sketches are related to Rowlett's Station, the December 1861 battle that made the regiment famous.

In addition to his more static camp views, Metzner also drew and painted some rather dramatic action scenes. Much of the art presented in the book appears crudely drawn and unfinished, and would probably be considered idiosyncratic folk art more than anything else, but several of the scenes of men and units (especially artillery batteries) on the move reveal the artist to have some real talent. Perhaps the most impressive example is a stormy river crossing watercolor titled "Beginning of the Atlanta Campaign, May 10, 1864" (pg. 43).

Michael Peake complements the art compilation with a brief biographical sketch of Metzner, whose post war career included the co-founding of a pharmaceutical firm and a tile company. The author also offers a fine overview of the formation of the 32nd Indiana and its roles in the Battle of Rowlett's Station and the Shiloh, Kentucky, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga (where Metzner was wounded), Chattanooga, and Atlanta campaigns.  Peake and his publisher deserve a lot of credit for their quality reproductions of Metzner's illustrations and for bringing them to the public's attention. Blood Shed in this War should appeal to readers interested in Civil War art, the contributions of ethnic Germans to the Union war effort, and the role of the 32nd Indiana in the western theater.

1 comment:

  1. Blood Shed in this War is a fascinating book. Metzler's artwork is really good and interesting. I loved it.
    Joe Reinhart


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