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Edwin Austin Forbes

1839 – 1895


Edwin Austin Forbes (1839 – 1895) was an American artist who sketched and painted scenes of American Civil War, including dramatic battles, commanding portraits of the leaders, and sketches of the everyday life of a soldier. His drawings won a medal at the Centennial Exposition of 1876.

Forbes was born in New York City, New York, to Joseph C. Forbes (1808–1876) and Ann Douglass Forbes (1807–1890). While his father’s roots are unknown, his mother Ann was born to Duncan Douglass, a native of Scotland, and wife Isabel. Forbes had a sister Henrietta Forbes (1833 – 1872).

In 1857 at the age of 18, Forbes began studying at the National Academy of Design in New York City with instructor Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait. After School, he began his career painting animals and landscapes. When he was only 22 in 1861, "Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper" hired Forbes as an artist and deployed him with the Union Army during the American Civil War. Over the course of the next two and a half years, he sketched the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862, the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Antietam, the struggle on Burnside's Mud March in January 1863, the Chancellorsville Campaign, the Battle of Gettysburg, the Wilderness Campaign, the beginning of the Siege of Petersburg, and Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early's Washington Raid in mid-July 1864.

In addition to these battles and events, Forbes sketched daily camp life in the Union army. These sketches formed the basis of a series of copper plate etchings that he collected in the volume "Life Studies of the Great Army" in 1876. He also returned to animal studies and did many sketches of cavalry and artillery horses at work and in action. After the war, Forbes moved to Flatbush in Brooklyn, New York.

Forbes’s illustrations also appeared in Beyond the Mississippi (Hartford, 1869), which contained drawings by many Civil War artists such as Joseph Becker, Alfred Waud, William Waud, Frank Schell, and Thomas Nast. In 1876 at the Centennial Exposition, he was awarded a medal for his volume on Life Studies. In 1877, he was made an honorary member of the London Etching Club. In 1890, he completed a 2-volume work called "Thirty Years After: An Artist's Story of the Great War," which contained memoirs of his life as a Civil War "special" for Leslie's. Forbes also painted landscape and cattle scenes, among which are "Orange County Pasture" (1879) and "Evening—Sheep Pasture" (1881).

In the early 1890’s, Forbes suffered a paralytic stroke that numbed his right side. However, he continued to draw with his left hand until his death. He was interred in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. His Civil War art is considered as important as that of Winslow Homer and Thomas Nast. His work can now be found in the National Archives and the Library of Congress.

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