Charles Magnus, Patriotic Civil War Propaganda Printmaker

This post was written by Leanne Fortney, who began working with us in March as a Graduate Student Assistant within Research Services. Her main responsibilities are safeguarding our materials and assisting patrons with their research needs. She is a mother of two working on her MA in Art History with an interest in U.S. modern art between World War I and World War II. 

Northern Virginia Civil War images, #C0150 folder 2, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

In the United States, the Civil War created such a great demand for patriotic propaganda. Printmakers, such as Charles Magnus, produced over a thousand illustrations within the course of the war. This entire Northern Virginia Civil War images collection consists of nearly 200 images on various historical subjects in a variety of formats, including wood engravings, steel engravings, lithographs, chromolithographs, maps, and manuscripts from three periodicals: The Illustrated London News, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, and Harper’s Weekly. Most of the images depict battles and maps of the Civil War. The maps include the cities of Arlington and Alexandria and the counties of Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William. Columbia Pike, Chain Bridge, Long Bridge, the Little River Turnpike, Centreville and Manassas all existed at the time of the Civil War and all of them are represented or referenced in these images.

Northern Virginia Civil War images, #C0150 folder 2, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Magnus’s Civil War illustrations depicted scenes of civil war camps, battles, and portraits of military officials, but he specialized primarily in decorative patriotic stationary such as cards and envelopes. Although pictorial images comprise the majority of the collection, there are also numerous maps, most of which were produced by lithography. A number were produced for military purposes and employed by both the North and South alike. Maps made during the Civil War were often exceedingly accurate; their usefulness carried on into the twentieth century. Magnus’s lithograph series entitled, “Bird’s Eye View of Alexandria, Va”, are illustrated on well-preserved envelopes that are no larger than 3 inches by 5 inches and include a few that are hand colored! In 1798, German inventor, Alois Senefelder, created an innovated and revolutionary printmaking process that is now known as lithography. Lithography allows for artists to produce an unlimited set of images. This enabled Magnus to keep up with the high demands for his patriotic illustrations.

Illustrations like these have been created and used by the public to highlight news events, political satire, coverage of wars, marriages, and even celebrity (like Kings, Queens, Popes, etc.) outings. The practice of creating woodblock prints has been around since at least 220 C.E. with the Han Dynasty. Eventually, through the use of removable type and the invention of the printing press, artists were able to distribute their images over an even larger population.

Northern Virginia Civil War images, #C0150 folder 2, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Northern Virginia Civil War images, #C0150 folder 2, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.









To search the collections held at Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us at or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections.


Open for Research: The Visiting Nurse Association Records

We are pleased to announce that the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) of Northern Virginia records have been processed and are available for researchers to use. The collection contains nearly sixty years (1937-1997) of records from the VNA. Materials include meeting minutes, financial statements, correspondence, reports, and memoranda.

The VNA was founded under the not-for-profit company Visiting Nurse Home Care, Inc. in 1937 to provide medical care across the Northern Virginia region. Under a team of physicians, registered nurses, home health aides, volunteers, and social workers, the services offered by the Association and the VNA include skilled nursing care, home health aide service, rehabilitation therapy, social work, and a volunteer program. Their area of expertise encompasses such diverse health-care provisions as preventative care for diabetes and health education, mental health treatment, home infusion therapy, AIDS treatment, and assistance and counseling for the terminally ill and their families.

While there are not many photographs in this collection there are some great images that capture the nurses at work. Such as this image below, which shows a visiting nurse being given her orders for the day:

Nurses discussing patients for the day

Emilie Deady of the Visiting Nurse Association

Pictured on the left is Emilie Deady. Deady was the President and CEO of the VNA. This photo was taken in 1979.

James J. McDonnell Transportation Collection Available for Research!

Graduate student assistant Eron Ackerman recently completed a finding aid for the James J. McDonnell transportation collection. The collection contains documents, photographs, and publications about highway and interstate construction in the United States during the second half of the 20th century. Recently, researchers have shown particular interest in the documents and photographs about the Henry G. Shirley Memorial Highway in Northern Virginia.

NOVA traffic jam 1960s

Northern Virginia traffic jam, 1960s. James J. McDonnell transportation collection.