Harper’s Weekly – September 3, 1864

Lincoln’s prospects improved slightly on August 5, when Admiral David Farragut, lashed to the mast of his flagship, shouted “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” on his way to capturing Mobile Bay. That was the first in a triad of critical Union victories.

The Democratic National Convention was scheduled to meet in Chicago during the last week of August to nominate George B. McClellan for President. Once the Union’s top general, Lincoln had fired him almost two years earlier for his reluctance to fight. A key plank in the Democratic platform branded the war as “four years of failure.”

The single most important and influential cartoon that Nast ever drew appeared in Harper’s Weekly on August 24 (post-dated September 3), as the Convention was assembling. Compromise with the South — Dedicated to the Chicago Convention captured the very crux of the existential emotional and political stake at issue in the forthcoming election.

Nast’s scathing caricature of an arrogant, exultant Jeff Davis shaking hands with a crippled Union soldier who — with his head bowed and his only leg shackled to a ball and chain — humbly accepted it. Columbia, representing the Union and modeled by Nast’s wife, Sallie, wept at the gravestone marked “In Memory of Our Union-Heroes Who Fell in a Useless War.”

As Davis’s boot stomped on a Union grave and broke the sword of Northern Power, the cat-o’-nine-tails in his left hand was ready to flog his vanquished enemies. A black family in chains despaired behind Davis. The Union flag, upside down in distress, recited its successes, including emancipation, on its stripes; the Confederate flag detailed a list of atrocities.