George Caleb Bingham. “Martial Law.” or [Order Number 11].
Columbia and Kansas City, Missouri: George C. Bingham & Company, 1872. Engraving and mezzotint by John Sartain. 21 1/2 x 30 3/4 (image) plus full margins and text. 27 x 37 o.d. Designated “PROOF.” Scattered foxing in margins. Brilliant impression.
George Caleb Bingham was one of the greatest American genre painters of the mid-nineteenth century. In his large canvases he showed daily life from the American heartland. This composition is unusual because, rather than being a general situation, such as a genre scene on a river raft or at an election, this is a strong polemical piece depicting a particular event during the Missouri-Kansas fighting before and during the Civil War.
The scene of murder, devastation and misery is explained by the subtitle on the print: “AS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE DESOLATION OF BORDER COUNTIES OF MISSOURI DURING THE ENFORCEMENT OF MILITARY ORDERS, ISSUED BY BRIGADIER GENERAL EWING, OF THE FEDERAL ARMY, FROM HIS HEAD QUARTERS, KANSAS CITY, AUGT 25TH 1863.” Prior to this event in the 1860s a veritable war existed in western Missouri and Kansas between pro and anti slavery advocates. Due to some cruel raids and pitched battles as well as outright murders, the officer in charge of the federal military district around Kansas City decided to clear the countryside of farming people. The result saw Union and Confederate sympathizers as well as partisans expelled from homes which were destroyed. Despite protests by Bingham and other powerful citizens, the order was enforced. Many innocent people suffered horribly.