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Northern Virginia Civil War images collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: C0150

Scope and Content

The collection consists of nearly 200 images on various historical subjects in a variety of formats, including wood engravings, steel engravings, lithographs, chromolithographs, maps, and manuscripts. Most of the images depict battles and maps of the Civil War. The maps include the cities of Arlington and Alexandria and the counties of Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William. Columbia Pike, Chain Bridge, Long Bridge, the Little River Turnpike, Centreville and Manassas all existed at the time of the Civil War and all of them are represented or referenced in these images.

Most of the Civil War images are from three periodicals: The Illustrated London News, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, and Harper's Weekly. They are primarily wood engravings, several of which are hand colored. Though wood engraving was invented as an illustrative technique in the 1790s, it was the later appearance of the mass illustrated newspaper that took advantage of the technique to appeal to a wide readership.

Although pictorial images comprise the majority of images in the collection, there are also numerous maps, most of which were produced by lithography. A number were produced for military purposes and employed by both the North and South alike. Maps made during the Civil War were often exceedingly accurate; their usefulness carried on into the twentieth century.


  • 1853-1914


Access Restrictions

Collection is open to research.

Use Restrictions

There are no restrictions.

Historical Information

The Illustrated London News was one of the first newspapers to employ wood engravings on a wide scale. One of its artists was Frank Vizetelly (1830-1883); he covered the Civil War for British readers. Early on, he illustrated the war from the Union side but was later allowed to draw from the Confederate side. Artists like Vizetelly sometimes did more than draw, though. He acted as a messenger for Confederate General James Longstreet at the battle of Chickamauga. Vizetelly was also a staff aide for the Confederates at the battle of Fredericksburg and was present at Charleston, South Carolina, when it was besieged. Because of such personal involvement by artists, many engravings were not made by detached observers, but by active participants in history unfolding.

Frank Leslie (1821-1880) was another artist who began his career as an engraver in 1842 and eventually published his own newspaper, which he titled, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. The newspaper also covered the Civil War. Leslie used a large number of illustrations in his newspaper to increase circulation. Images from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper are well represented in Northern Virginia Images Collection, including several images from the German language edition of the newspaper.

Another popular periodical of the time was Harper's Weekly. It first appeared in 1857 and became one of the most important and influential periodicals in nineteenth century America, notably during the Civil War. Two prominent artists for Harper's Weekly during this period were Alfred Waud (1828-1891) and Thomas Nast (1840-1902). Engravings by both are included in Northern Virginia Images Collection. Waud was primarily assigned to the eastern front and covered the war from the Battle of First Manassas to the Confederacy's surrender at Appomattox Court House. Thomas Nast (who later became famous for creating the roly- poly figure in red we now know as Santa Claus) worked largely in New York for most of the war. One of the major exceptions to this was when he spent time in the Union camp during the Battle of Gettysburg. Nast's sympathies were for the Union side, which, naturally, bothered Southerners, who often sent threatening letters to Nast at the Harper's Weekly office. By and large, The Illustrated London News, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, and Harper's Weekly illustrated the Civil War from the Northern point-of-view.

Many of today's Northern Virginia residents only know the area as a population outgrowth of Washington, D.C. Despite this cosmopolitan reputation, it was largely farm country at the time of the Civil War through World War II. Few realize that the area was the frequent battleground for large contending forces. Yet, many of the areas that are depicted in the images still exist today but under much different circumstances. Some of the areas included in these images have undergone radical cultural changes as well. An Islamic Mosque now occupies Munson Hill, which Confederate forces occupied under General J.E.B. Stuart during early days of the war.


3 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The collection contains images and maps depicting Northern Virginia. A majority of the images are contemporary illustrations of the Civil War in Virginia. Formats include wood engravings, steel engravings, lithographs, chromolithographs, and a manuscript.


This collection is arranged by locality of primary image.

Acquisition Information

Purchased by Special Collections and Archives in 1997-2005 from Prints Old and Rare.

Related Material

Special Collections and Archives also holds the Alexander Haight family collection, the Milton Barnes papers, and the WRLC digital collection Virginia Civil War Archive. The digital version of Harper's Weekly is available for GMU affiliated researchers.

Processing Information

Processed by Special Collections and Archives staff. EAD markup completed in February 2009 by Eron Ackerman and Jordan Patty. EAD updated by Greta Kuriger in July 2011.

Guide to the Northern Virginia Civil War images collection, 1853-1914
Northern Virginia Civil War images
Edited Full Draft
Eron Ackerman
2006 By George Mason University Libraries. All rights reserved.
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Description is in English

Repository Details

Part of the George Mason University. Libraries. Special Collections Research Center Repository

Fenwick Library, MS2FL
4400 University Dr.
Fairfax Virginia 22030 United States
703-993-8911 (Fax)