Battle between the Monitor and Merrimac

Capitalizing on the success of Civil War-related artwork during the 1880s and 90s, the Chicago-based printmakers Louis Kurz and Alexander Allison published a series of 36 battle scenes commemorating famous engagements of the war. All displayed idealized, panoramic representations of the battles with statistics of the killed and wounded below each image. Kurz and Allison did not consult photography or Civil War historians when designing their prints, instead relying on Kurz’s own first-hand experience as a soldier during the conflict. They included historical inaccuracies and eschewed aesthetic realism to remain true to earlier, pre-photographic lithographic traditions, which preferred bold graphics, black outlines, and figures performing grand, exaggerated gestures.
On March 8, 1862, the Confederate ironclad ship, the CSS Virginia, built from the hull of the USS Merrimac, sailed out of Norfolk to attack Union ships in an attempt to break the Federal blockade, which prevented Norfolk and Richmond from engaging in international trade. It succeeded in destroying two ships, the USS Cumberland and USS Congress. As it approached the USS Minnesota on the morning, the Virginia was engaged by the Union’s own ironclad vessel, the USS Monitor. After exchanging fire for several hours, the retreated to Norfolk, leaving the first battle between ironclad ships a draw.
This 1889 chromolithograph depicts the two ironclads and other traditional wooden warships exchanging fire in Hampton Roads harbor. Union artillery batteries provide supporting fire from the shore. Men abandon the burning USS Congress, which had been destroyed by the Merrimac. Those sailors who have reached the shore are carried away on stretchers. A group of mounted officers in the lower left corner look out upon the battle.
Louis Kurz was a mural and scene painter before the Civil War, explaining the mural-like format of the images. His illustrations also appear to have been inspired by cycloramas, which were popular at the time, such as Paul Philippoteaux’s Gettysburg Cyclorama. Kurz was an Austrian immigrant who settled in Chicago during the 1850s, where he formed a partnership with Henry Seifert of Milwaukee. He later fought for the Union Army during the Civil War. After the conflict, he co-founded the Chicago Lithographic Company. When the company’s assets were destroyed during the Chicago Fire of 1871, Kurz started a new business with his partner, financial backer, and business manager, Alexander Allison.
Currently not on view
Date made
Kurz & Allison-Art Studio
place made
United States: Illinois, Chicago
image: 17 1/2 in x 25 in; 44.45 cm x 63.5 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Harry T. Peters "America on Stone" Lithography Collection
Chronology: 1880-1889
Civil War
Patriotism and Patriotic Symbols
Uniforms, Military
Battle Scenes
related event
Civil War
Battle between the Monitor and Merrimac
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Home and Community Life: Domestic Life
Domestic Furnishings
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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