Bold, Cautious, True: Walt Whitman and American Art of the Civil War Era is a study of American paintings, sculpture, and graphic arts during the turbulent, violent, and ultimately transformative decade of the 1860's. The Civil War left no American lives untouched, including those of the nation's artists, a number of whom rushed to enlist as the first shots were fired in 1861. Many others could not help but allow the war experience to enter their artistic production. The Civil War certainly reached into the Brooklyn home of the Whitman family, who sent one son, George, to fight heroically on the front-lines, and another, Walt, to tend to thousands of wounded soldiers in Washington, D.C., military hospitals. Walt Whitman's years as a self-described wound-dresser affected him deeply. Even though by 1860 he had already issued three editions of Leaves of Grass, his seminal masterpiece of American poetry, nothing, he later claimed, influenced his work more than the war.
Bold, Cautious, True traces the war experiences of George W. Whitman, as he marches across the battlefields of Antietam, Fredricksburg, and the Wilderness, and rises from raw recruit to lieutenant coloront (by brevet). It tracks the unexpected emergence of Abraham Lincoln, an Illinois lawyer who accepts the grim responsibility of governing a nation at war with itself. It describes the struggle of four million enslaved African Americans in their quest for freedom and their search for a place in the American experiment. It looks to the work of major artistic figures on both sides of the conflict - Alfred T. Bricher, Frederic E. Church, Robert Scott Duncanson, Sanford R. Gifford, Winslow Homer, Eastman Johnson, Goerge Cochran Lambdin, Jervis McEntee, Louise Remy Mignot, Thomas Satterwhite Nobhle, Enoch Wood Perry, John Quincy Adams Ward, William D. Washington, and others - whose lives, families, careers, and work were forever shaped by the war. And Bold, Cautious, True follows the poet Walt Whitman, one of the most original voicese fo the American nineteenth century, as he searches for a wounded brother and finds the spirit of a nation.