Although it is commonly regarded as the conclusion of the Civil War, the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, did not erase the scars of war across the Northern home front. After the war’s end, many women and children at home adjusted either to the loss or to the return of their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers. Although Northern visual culture celebrated soldiers’ homecomings, they often did so in a way that communicated profound loss, depicting “suffering heroes” who had lost limbs or were permanently scarred by fighting.
American painters also addressed the melancholy of war’s end. Sanford Robinson Gifford’s Hunter Mountain, Twilight and Lilly Martin Spencer’s Home of the Red, White, and Blue both communicate the irretrievable losses of war even as they search for signs of future promise. The challenge faced by the entire nation as the war concluded would be to honor the sacrifices made by both by those who went to war and those who stayed at home, while also finding paths to national reunion.