The Bushwhacker: The Wife's Appeal for Peace

Object Number: 
Painted plaster
Overall: 22 1/2 x 11 1/2 x 8 in. (57.2 x 29.2 x 20.3 cm)
Genre figure
Gallery Label: 
In The Bushwhacker Rogers addressed a controversial Civil War subject with remarkable sensitivity, but the artist's sympathetic approach could not assuage the tensions that surrounded it. Bushwhackers were guerrilla fighters who were not affiliated with an army but carried out attacks against opposing individuals or families. Most of these attacks took place in rural areas in the border states between the opposing sides. They often degenerated into neighbor-on-neighbor fighting, and the violence escalated into atrocities that resulted in hundreds of deaths, such as the burning of Lawrence, Kansas, and the murder of two hundred men and boys in August 1863. In Rogers' sculpture a man with shaggy hair and beard and dressed in ragged clothing stands with a rifle in his hand and a knife tucked in his boot. His wife tries to pull away his gun with one hand and with the other places their child in his arms, begging him not to go. The man, who might otherwise look fierce and terrifying, inclines his head toward his baby with closed eyes, responding sweetly to his wife's plea. Historical accounts generally associate bushwhacking with Confederates. However, Rogers did not specify which cause his man supported. The sales catalogue description reads, "A bushwhacker is about to start out with his gun on his murderous business, but his wife has put his child in his arms, and is trying, by appealing to his home affections, to dissuade him from his purpose." Contemporary writers offered differing interpretations: in 1865 one writer admitted that he was not sure of the figure's affiliation but took him to be one of the "erring brethren." In 1866, after the war had ended, he was described as a Confederate "leaving his home for the murder and plunder, perhaps, of some Union family." But in 1870 another critic described him as "a dear brother of our own who for weary days and nights was kept skulking for dear life in the woods of Kentucky because he was a Union man." Rogers did not hesitate to identify his soldiers as Unionist in works such as Wounded Scout: A Friend in the Swamp (1936.655, 1928.31) and Wounded to the Rear: One More Shot (1929.92, 1940.844). However, in this case, he did not specifically condemn either side with the horrors that bushwhackers had perpetrated. Rather, Rogers portrayed his subject as a tenderhearted family man, and through his wife, the artist called for reconciliation and an end to vigilante attacks. Rogers faced a nearly impossible task in choosing subjects for his Civil War groups. He endeavored to gauge public response to very sensitive issues months in advance, as the tides of events and public opinion constantly shifted around him. He developed this subject very quickly in a few months leading up to his wedding in April 1865. Rogers was unhappy with the result, but he deserves credit for his boldness and his concern. The Bushwhacker can be seen as a form of advocacy, an attempt not just to reflect public opinion but also to shape it and effect a reconciliation between warring civilians. However, the public was apparently not yet ready to embrace such a traumatic situation. The group was completed the same month that the war ended, and though some of Rogers' other Civil War subjects continued to be popular decades later, this one may have represented a subject people were eager to forget. Sales of the group were very poor, and Rogers withdrew it from his catalogue after a few years. As a result, The Bushwhacker is now one of his rarest groups.
Article, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 1, 3, New York Historical Society. "New York Gossip," The Daily Evening Bulletin, Philadelphia, Mar. 13, 1865, p. 1. "Art in New York," The Daily Evening Bulletin, Philadelphia, Mar. 21, 1865, p. 6. "Fine Arts," The Evening Post, New York, April 1, 1865. p. 1. Tuckerman, Henry T., Book of the Artists, American Artist Life, Comprising Biographical and Critical Sketches of American Artists: Preceded by an Historical Account of the Rise and Progress of Art in America, New York: P. Putnam & Son, 1867, pp. 595-7. Wells, Samuel R., ed., "John Rogers, the Sculptor," American Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated, Vol. 49, no. 9, September, 1869, pp. 329-30. Smith, Mrs. and Mrs. Chetwood, Rogers Groups: Thought and Wrought by John Rogers, Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed & Co., 1934, pp.70-1. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 104, 214-5. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 160-1. Clapper, Michael, "Reconstructing a Family: John Rogers's Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations," Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 39, No. 4, Winter 2004, pp. 259-78.
Credit Line: 
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Frank L. Adams
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group