Our Banner in the Sky

In Frederic Church’s 1861 painting Our Banner in the Sky, a smoldering red sunrise morphs into a dramatic vision of the American flag, waving in tatters over a dark and desolate wilderness. The trunk of a leafless tree serves as flagstaff; directly above it, an eagle soars. Spurred by the April 1861 Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, Church painted Our Banner in the Sky to stir patriotic fervor at the moment of national rupture, the dawn of war.

The image delivered its rousing message to a receptive audience. It became even more popular when a New York publishing firm bought the copyright to Church’s painting and reproduced it as a lithograph.

Our Banner in the Sky

Frederic Edwin Church, Our Banner in the Sky
1861
Oil paint, over photomechanically produced lithograph, on paper, laid down on cardboard
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1992.27

By 1861, Americans not only read the news—they also saw the news. Two magazines in particular—Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and Harper’s Weekly—circulated to hundreds of thousands of readers, relaying wartime stories and scenes both real and imagined. Frank Leslie’s first published an engraving of the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 20, 1861, less than a week after the event itself. Still intact despite furious assault, the flag waving over the fort graphically proclaims the North’s refusal to give in. A similar engraving, shown above, was produced for an 1862 pictorial history of the war.

"The Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor, the 12th and 13th of April, 1861"

“The Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor, the 12th and 13th of April, 1861” from Frank Leslie's Pictorial History of the American Civil War, edited by E. G. Squier
New York: Frank Leslie, 1862
Newberry Dawes F 834 .496
Gift of the Honorable Charles G. Dawes