1860ís American Civil War Envelope Cover Works of Art & Propaganda

SKU: AUT7599


Original & Very Rare American Civil War Cover-Envelope iconography; two African American platation slave workers standing in field with working hoes, one asking "Whar' Massa Jeffs..." The other slave states, "Why Dey Lost de Ferry (i.e., Battle of Harpers Ferry, Va.) & "How Dey Has Goen To Win-Chess-ter" (i.e., Master Jeff, fled to Northern Virginia in Winchester) as a safe haven. Text reads: "SAM? WHAR'MASSA JEFFS SOGERS DIS MORNING (REPLAY) WHY DEY LOST DE FERRY & NOW DEY HAS GONE TO WIN-CHESS-Ter." Copyright 1862, - 5 1/2 x 3 1/2.  Printed and Published  by Magee, 316 Chestnut St. Phlis., PA. Blue die ink, printed on early American made envelope with full lap and gum on verso; a lovely organic light golden-browning hue seen with minimal staining. Overall, fine/very fine condition condition.


The Battle of Harpers Ferry was fought September 12-15, 1862, as part of the Maryland Campaign of the American Civil War. As Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army invaded Maryland, a portion of his army under Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson surrounded, boarded, and captured the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West VA), a major victory st relatively minor cost. 

Winchester was a key strategic position for the Confederate States Army during the war. It was an important operational objective in Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s and Col. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s defense of the Shenandoah Valley in 1861, Jackson’s Valley Campaign of 1862, the Gettysburg Campaign of 1963 and the Valley Campaigns of 1864. Including minor cavalry raids and patrols and occasional reconnaissances, historians claim that Winchester changed hands as many as 72 times and 13 times in one day. 

Battles raged along Main Street at points in the war. Union General Sheridan and Stonewall Jackson, located their headquarters just one block apart at times.

The printing and publications of pre-American Civil War envelopes began as early as the mid-1850’s, when north-south divisions began to take shape, but ended prior to the war's conclusion because most believed that it was too indulgent and expensive to continue production in a time of war. 

These Civil War envelopes, some of which have been called early versions of pictorial postcards, were very popular with collectors of patriotic propaganda. 

The subjects illustrated on these envelopes varied from the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy, to caricatures of important war heroes. Though popular with collectors, these envelopes are a very underutilized source of Civil War iconography. The majority of the envelopes are about 3 x 5” in size, and were published in nearly all of the major cities, with New York and Boston being the largest producers. 

In 1861 and the years that followed, many American men found themselves far from home. Farmhands from rural New York walked the streets of Washington, D.C., serving in the Union Army of the Potomac. Boys from Maine, fought in the forests of Virginia. More than 2.6 million men joined the Union Army over the course of the war, while roughly a million joined the Confederate forces. 

The volume of mail ticked upward with letters to distant homes, and when it was time to send a letter, soldiers and civilians alike reached for a new kind of envelope, freshly printed and decorated with red and blue flags, delicate engravings of eagles, poems about the girl left behind, or the faces of generals, whom people at home might never have seen. 

There were many such envelopes to choose from: over the course of the war, 10,000 or more Union designs were printed up, says Steven Boyd, a historian from Univ. of Texas, San Antonio. During the War Between the States, you could buy a hundred or more different designs in a single packet for one dollar. 

These patterns range from simple flags and mottos to macabre revenge fantasies, with the hanged bodies of Southern generals lining the road to Washington. For a brief period at the beginning of the war, envelopes and/or covers were printed in the Confederacy as well, and Southerners could send letters with a portrait of Jefferson Davis, “Our First President,” or any number of depictions of the new nation’s flag. 

In the South, pro-Confederate envelopes were being sold even before the first shots were fired, says Trish Kaufmann, a collector and expert on Confederate postal history. “They were the dissidents, the ones trying to drum up patriotic fervor” first, she pointed out. 

Again, envelopes, featuring the original Confederate flag—with seven white stars on a blue rectangle and a red-and-white-striped background—flew off the presses. When new states seceded, rushed printers scratched in new stars or just small crosses on their plates to update the flag. 

The South was not a manufacturing society, and it had to import it’s paper, as well as inks, from England also, from the North at times. With a Union blockade keeping ships from reaching Confederate ports, paper was soon scarce and by 1863, very few envelopes were being printed. 

As a result, there are envelopes or covers with portraits of General P.G.T. Beauregard, an early Confederate hero, but none of General Robert E. Lee or General Stonewall Jackson, as these two generals rose to prominence during the second half of the American Civil War.