Private Robert Knox Sneden (1832-1918) was born in Nova Scotia but was living in New York City by 1850. He found work as an apprentice architect there and enlisted in the Union Army of the Potomac in 1861. He joined the 40th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment where he served as a quartermaster. In January 1862, he began his service as a draftsman working on campaign maps. He participated in the Peninsula Campaign and took part in the second Battle of Bull Run. In October 1863, he was captured and imprisoned in Richmond, Va., then moved south to Georgia where he was held at the notorious Andersonville prison and eventually at Camp Lawton.
While a prisoner, he continued his practice of making sketches of what he saw. To keep the drawings from being confiscated by the Confederates, he reportedly sewed them into the lining of his coat. It is during his stay at Camp Lawton that Sneden produced his most brilliant work. Part of the reason is because he worked as a paroled prisoner and wrote Latin prescriptions in the hospital during this period, and was allowed greater freedom outside the stockade.
After 13 months of internment, Sneden was eventually exchanged. At this point he made his way back to New York where he found that he had been declared dead. Permanently disabled, he decided to devote his time to painting the scenes he had sketched during his enlistment and time in POW camps. These watercolors lay hidden until 1994 when they were discovered and subsequently acquired by the Virginia Historical Society. The paintings were published as Images from the Storm and Sneden’s diary was published as Eye of the Storm. Sneden’s body of work is the largest collection of Civil War art known to exist.
- Amanda L. Morrow
Georgia Southern Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Georgia Southern University
P.O. Box 8051
Statesboro, GA 30460-8142
P: (912) 478-2587
F: (912) 478-0703