History Timeline 1860s

Photo above: President Abraham Lincoln. Courtesy National Archives. Right: Lithograph of Fort Sumter. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Fort Sumter

U.S. Timeline - The 1860s

The Civil War

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  • Timeline

  • 1860 - Detail

    1860-1861 - Emmanuel Leutze is commissioned by Congress and begins to paint the mural, "Westward Ho the Course of Empire Takes Its Way," in July 1861 for the U.S. Capitol. The mural represents frontier settlement.

    Westward Ho, Emmanuel Luetze Mural

    There's a debate on the date. Most credit July of 1861 as the date the painting was started, and some, including perhaps the most reputable source the Architect of the Capitol, states that it was commissioned at the same time by the superintendent of the construction at the Capitol, Captain Montgomery C. Meigs for $20,000. Other sources contend that it was Congress itself who made the commission one year before, and that Leutze had spent the summer before, i.e. 1860, beginning research on the painting by traveling to the Rocky Mountains to sketch the scenery. We'll admit; we don't know. However, it does seem odd that a painting of that magnitude could be commissioned and started at the same time in the speed Washington works today. Maybe it was different then. Probably not, particularly at a time the Civil War was starting.

    No matter when the commission was made, it is accepted that he began his painting of the mural in July 1861. The mural would be large, twenty by thirty feet, and painted using the stereochromy technique. What was that? Try painting on plaster and sealed with silica, waterglass, that brightened the colors. Leutze painted through November 1862 as war raged around Washington, the Union, and Confederate states. His original sketches of the year before did not include the freed slave now depicted in the center of the painting; it is thought that was added subsequent to the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation after the Battle of Antietam. Another addition as war raged, the inclusion of the American flag to symbolize the Union.

    What else is depicted in the mural? There are pioneers, including Daniel Boone and William Clark, pioneers and their wagon train at the Continental Divide, and the destination of San Francisco and the Golden Gate.

    Where Did the Title Come From?

    Westward the Empire Takes Its Way (Westward Ho as it has become known) is from a verse in the poem by Bishop George Berkeley named "On the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America," written in 1726. The College of California would also use that poem in finding a name for the area where their college was founded in 1866. As the Berkeley story goes, Berkeley had always wanted to found a missionary college for colonists and Native Americans in the colonies, so the founders of the college thought his name appropriate.

    On the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America

    The Muse, disgusted at an age and clime
    Barren of every glorious theme,

    In distant lands now waits a better time,
    Producing subjects worthy fame.

    In happy climes, where from the genial sun
    And virgin earth such scenes ensue,

    The force of art by nature seems outdone,
    And fancied beauties by the true;

    In happy climes, the seat of innocence,
    Where nature guides and virtue rules,

    Where men shall not impose for truth and sense
    The pedantry of courts and schools:

    There shall be sung another golden age,
    The rise of empire and of arts,

    The good and great inspiring epic rage,
    The wisest heads and noblest hearts.

    Not such as Europe breeds in her decay;
    Such as she bred when fresh and young,

    When heavenly flame did animate her clay,
    By future poets shall be sung.

    Westward the course of empire takes its way;
    The four first Acts already past,

    A fifth shall close the Drama with the day;
    Time's noblest offspring is the last.

    George Berkeley, 1726

    The Career of Emmanuel Leutze

    Leutze was German born, 1816, an immigrant to the United States with his parents in 1825. He began his formal training in Philadelphia under artist John Rubens Smith, then spent decades back in Europe honing his skills and finding first success. His painting, Christopher Columbus Before the Council of Salamanca, in 1841, prompted increased notice and prestige. In 1851, his second painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware, was completed, and is now owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It depicts George Washington on the night of December 25-26, 1776, at Washington's Crossing, standing in a boat on their way to the surprise attack against the British at Trenton.

    Leutze returned to the United States in 1851, returned to Europe again, then back to the United States in 1859. He continued to paint on a variety of topics, including the American Revolution and various political figures. Leutze, himself, thought that he would have been commissiomed to paint a replica of "Washington Crossing the Delaware," which Congress had been deliberating in 1853, prior to the commission to paint the "Westward Ho" mural.

    Other famous Luetze paintings include ...

    1843 - "Columbus Before the Queen."

    1845 - Portrait of William Morris Hunt.

    1848 - "Storming of the Teocalli by Cortez and his Troops"

    1851-1854 - "Washington rallying the troops at Monmouth," about the 1778 Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey, during the American Revolution.

    1859 - Portrait of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney.

    1862 - Portrait of Nathanial Hawthorne.

    Image above: Mural of "Westward Ho, the Empire Takes Its Way," 1861, Emmanuel Luetze. Mural located in the wing of the House of Representatives, U.S. Capitol. Courtesy Architect of the Capitol. Image below: Painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, 1851, Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Info source: Architect of the Capitol; Berkeley Historical Society; "Westward Ho!"; the History of Leutze's Fresco in the Capitol, Raymond Louis Stehle, Historical Society of Washington; Wikipedia Commons.

    Washington's Crossing Painting by Emmanuel Luetzke

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