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Game of Freeze-Out, 1886
Julian Scott (1846-1901)

View Artist Bio
Oil on canvas
25 x 30 inches
Signature Details: Julian Scott / 1886.
Status: Private Collection, Florida

The continuing impact of the American Civil War upon every generation of American citizens since the war years of 1861 to 1865 has yet to be fully comprehended.  The recently concluded sesquicentennial commemoration of the war has been noteworthy in the systematic examination of numerous aspects of the war’s impact on politics, religion, African-American dimensions of American history, social mythologies, and even such subjects as Drew Gilpin Faust’s examination of death and grieving in This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (2008).   The Civil War 150th is now followed by similar in-depth commemorations (and investigations) of the sesquicentennial of the Reconstruction Era.  One branch of scholarship that links the two successive commemorations is an intense study of the creation and display of public monuments relating to the Civil War and its aftermath and the role that monuments---mostly statues---played in the rise of a pro-Confederate Lost Cause culture. 

Given all of the efforts spent upon commemorative activities, including myriad scholarly conferences, book and periodical publications, public education events, and reenactments of significant events, it is surprising that little attention has been paid to the impact of the Civil War upon the last epoch of American history-painting.  For, that genre experienced not only a revolution in subject matter but also revolutions in patronage, techniques, and even in the life histories of several important post-war American painters.   The rise of illustrated newspapers and magazines such as Harper’s Weekly, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, the Southern Illustrated News and others just before the start of the Civil War and the continual coverage of the conflict gave employment to many “special artists,” who provided battlefield sketches, depictions of camp life and home life, and portraits of soldiers of all ranks and, more importantly, provided continuous visual news coverage of the conflict.  Simultaneously, technological advances in photography added its dimension to the best-recorded war in human history.  In the aftermath of the war state and federal government agencies, veterans’ organizations such as the Grand Army of the Republic, Confederate Veterans, and Military Order of Loyal Legions, Union Leagues, noteworthy generals, and even specific Union and Confederate regiments that had distinguished themselves in combat all became patrons of fine art enterprises. 

Julian A. Scott (1846 ‒ 1901) and his considerable body of works, almost exclusively oil-paintings, epitomized the history-painting revolutions of the late nineteenth century.  His fellow  revolutionists included James Walker (1819 ‒ 1889), Winslow Homer (1836 ‒ 1910), Eastman Johnson (1824 ‒ 1906), Xanthus R. Smith (1839 ‒ 1929), and Conrad Wise Chapman (1842 ‒ 1910), but Scott stood alone even among this select group.  With the exception of Scott, all of the men mentioned were to some degree “special artists,” whose jobs were to make visual records of the war from their perspectives as “embedded” correspondents.  During the war but especially after 1865 these men then built upon their wartime body of work correspondent’s jobs to create important murals, history-paintings, and oil on canvas works of all dimensions.  

Scott shared many of the sensibilities of these older men and he assuredly made his career as a chronicler of the wartime experiences of the great people and events as well as of the mundane activities and common soldiers that he knew from the most intimate personal experiences.  For, Julian Scott was a combat veteran barely nineteen at the war’s end but had even before enlisting in the Union Army at the remarkable age of fifteen years had discovered his artistic talent and had determined to become an artist; that is, if he survived the conflict.  Scott surely participated in the mid-century technological and marketing revolutions in the visual arts but the use he made of his experiences as a boy-soldier provided the ground for an even greater revolution in history painting. 

Julian A. Scott was born February 14, 1846, at Johnson, Vermont, and died July 4, 1901, at his home in Plainfield, New Jersey.  When the Civil War began in April 1861, Julian Scott followed his older brother’s example and at the age of fifteen enlisted as a fifer in Company E of the Third Vermont Infantry Regiment.  With that regiment he participated in the Battle of Lee’s Mill, Virginia (April 16, 1862) and was severely wounded in the leg at the Battle of White Oak Swamp (June 30, 1862).  At the Battle of Lee’s Mill, Scott served as a stretcher bearer and performed the actions for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for conspicuous bravery and conduct in combat.  He received the medal in February 1865 and his citation recorded that he had exposed himself to danger “under terrific fire of musketry several times to assist in bringing off the wounded” from the field.  In fact, he had helped recover nine wounded men.  To summarize this achievement: at the age of sixteen the budding artist had deserved and soon thereafter received the United States’ highest military honor. 

Mustered out of the army because of his wound, Scott enrolled as a student at the National Academy of Design where he was a student of Emanuel Leutze and Louis Lang.  While in New York City he resided at the Tenth Street Studio building in company with Sanford R. Gifford, Winslow Homer, and Worthington Whittridge, who were simultaneously working on Civil War subjects.  Scott retained connections with the Tenth Street Studio building for the remainder of his life.  He then secured permission from Union officers to travel with combat regiments in order to document episodes in the war.  It was in this capacity that he witnessed the Battle of Cedar Creek (October 19, 1864), in which Vermont regiments had played essential roles in the victory.  That battle later became the subject of his largest, most conspicuous battle painting.  While at the NAD, Scott secured the patronage of Henry E. Clark of New York City.  Clark’s assistance permitted Scott to pursue art training in New York and also in Europe free from the obligation to work as a commercial artist or to spend time in Europe copying Old Master paintings to accommodate his patron.  Clark made it possible for Scott to concentrate on revolutionizing Civil War art.

Given this partial account of Scott’s life it is possible to examine “A Game of Freeze-out” (1886) with a view to elaborating its revolutionary characteristics.  The painting depicts a group of five regimental musicians—all of them youths—two of whom are using a drumhead as a card table upon which to play “Freeze-Out,” a simple card game that is often today called “War.”   The players are a drummer and a bugler.  A third drummer stands and watches the game while two other drummers in the background walk away through a field of tall grass.  A company pet dog sleeps in the grass.  The extreme youth of the players is the most conspicuous aspect of the painting.  That youthfulness is enhanced by the knowledge that by the time Scott had reached the age of the painting subjects he had won the Medal of Honor.  In addition, the artist’s younger brother, Charles Scott, had enlisted at the age of thirteen as a bugler.  The scenes in Scott’s paintings that depict young buglers and drummers are direct results of his personal experiences and those of his younger brother.  Executed with a muted color scheme and attentive to varieties of light that play through the scene, A Game of Freeze-out contrasts the every-day activities of boys and young men fully engaged in life amid the pity, terror, and boredom of Civil War campaigning.  Verisimilitude with regard to uniforms and accoutrements (the standing youth bears the insignia of Company A on his cap and the bugler’s hat bears an artillery regiment pin) is the hallmark of the revolution that Scott, Homer, Walker, and Chapman brought to their paintings.  It is noteworthy that even far from the battlefield the youths carry with them their musical instruments at all times.  They bore their drums and bugles in the same way that an infantryman carried his rifle.  Coupled with that verisimilitude—different from super-realism— Scott and his fellow revolutionaries regularly depicted scenes of camp life—guard duty, cooking, cleaning, drills, and recreation—instead of scenes freighted with abstract concepts of honor, reckless bravery, and conspicuous individualism.  For Scott and his peers, the pageantry of great battles and heroic individual deeds were few and far between.  They affirmed from personal experience that amid carnage, death, and destruction, the essential humanity of Union and Confederate troops was to be found on and off the battlefield. 

Scott excelled both in the realistic depictions of both camp life and the reality of battle, a reality that is far from the crisp lines and mass movements that often passed for battlefield art.  Even his best-known and largest painting, “The Battle of Cedar Creek” (1874), commissioned for the Vermont State Capitol differs from the works of other large-scale painters such as the vast depictions of the Battle of Gettysburg by Peter Rothermel, James Walker, and Paul Philippoteaux.  As evidence of the revolution that Scott and some other history painters wrought in the immediate post-Civil War years, an anonymous reviewer in the October 31, 1874, issue of Appleton’s Journal elaborated the difference between Civil War battles and paintings and conventional, that is, fanciful, battle-pieces and the sensibilities of those painters who were also war veterans.

Serried ranks, bayonet-charges, and men dressed to the point of dress-parade, have usually been the stock-in-trade of such scenes; and only those who have been in actual battle could dissipate those illusions, for they alone were aware how forlornly ill-clad were the ranks who had slept in muddy fields, and they had seen now often regulation caps and uniforms were replaced, if replaced at all, by any old garment that came to hand.  Bayonet-charges, too, such soldiers assure us, are very rare; and what with dodging fire by ambushes, dropping behind stray bushes or low hillocks, the fields of battle in America have rarely been as regular as the conventional battle-painters would have us believe.  It is from this modern and realistic stand-point that several of the best paintings of our late war have been made, and Julian Scott and James Walker have done a great deal to perpetuate the true spirit of scenes which they themselves witnessed (pp. 572-3)

This notice of the history-painting revolution was both accurate and quickly forgotten for nearly a century after the Civil War.  It has required the sesquicentennial and the work of scholars such as Peter Wood’s work on Winslow Homer and especially Robert Titterton’s Julian Scott, Artist of the Civil War and Native America; With 97 Illustrations (McFarland & Co., 1997) to concentrate attention upon artistic representations of army camp life, the travails of the home front, the uncertain victories and defeats of African Americans as Union soldiers and southern “Contrabands.”   Several of Scott’s paintings exemplify the “modern and realistic standpoint” that the reviewer observed. “A Break: Playing Cards” (1881) and “Civil War Drummer Boys Playing Cards” (1891) are other versions of “Game of Freeze-out.”  “Civil War Battle Scene: A Moment of Decision” (1893) depicts a small group of Union soldiers a moment before they begin their advance from a protected position to enter (or continue) their battlefield advance.  Troops advanced in squads or small groups, not as line-abreast companies or regiments.  “Compassionate Enemy” (1879) captures a Confederate guard risking punishment to give food to a Union prisoner.  “Flag of Truce” (1889) is an episode of truce in the Cold Harbor Campaign to permit both sides to retrieve dead and wounded from a battlefield.  The realism of this painting is enhanced by the likelihood that the mounted bugler is a portrait of Charles Scott, the artist’s younger brother.  Few, if any, of Scott’s Civil War paintings are trite in sentiment or simplistic in depictions of so-called martial virtues.  All are grounded in an attempt to capture unusual but very familiar scenes of humanity amid the nation’s greatest calamity.  His paintings are too true-to-life to be used as propaganda for any sorts of Confederate Lost Cause nostalgia or for any Union triumphalism.  Scott and other veteran-artists such as Chapman, Walker, and Homer sought representative examples of Abraham Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature” and found them in the prison guards, picket troops, pioneers, and stretcher-bearers in every company and regiment, Union and Confederate, that engaged in the Civil War.


Robert J. Titterton. Julian Scott, Artist of the Civil War and Native America: With 97 Illustrations. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1997

Harold Holzer and Mark E. Neely, Jr. Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory: The Civil War in Art. New York: Orion Books, 1993.

“Fine Art.” Appleton’s Journal. Volume 12, No. 293 (October 31, 1874), 572-3.

Medal of Honor Recipients (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1973), no. 219.  Online Accessed June 25, 2016.

This essay is copyrighted by Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission.

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