Rogers Groups in The Little Corporal

Filling the pages of 19th-century children’s magazines with worthwhile material was a daunting task (made easier, of course, by the tradition of reprinting articles from other periodicals). Illustrations, which were expensive to produce, often were re-used without editorial comment. The editors of The Little Corporal, however, not only re-used illustrations, but worked in a little advertising, when they printed engravings of the popular Rogers Groups. These genre sculptures intended to adorn the parlor were the work of John Rogers, whose sculptures in clay were reproduced by the hundreds in plaster over wire armature, and painted a light brown. Rogers depicted many aspects of mid-nineteenth-century life, serious and humorous: the auction of a slave family, soldiers and camp life, checker players, a photographer and his subject (two statues meant to be placed at either end of a mantelpiece). One of the most popular sculptures was “Coming to the Parson": a parson reading the newspaper “The Union" is interrupted by a young couple about to form their own “union.” Rogers’ sculptures were first sold in 1859, but their greatest popularity came after the Civil War.

The Little Corporal was unapologetic about why these engravings were published; in the January 1867 issue, the editor explains:

We print in this number “One More Shot,” one of Rogers’ beautiful American Groups.

After looking everywhere for illustrations peculiarly appropriate to the pages of The Little Corporal—pictures which should be purely American, and worthy of the admiration of all Americans—we have determined to have an engraving of one of these unsurpassed Groups in each number of our paper during the coming year. These statuettes are made from composition which will bear careful washing with soap and water, and make the most beautiful parlor ornaments that are to be obtained anywhere. We shall have more to say of the Groups and their Author in future numbers. These pictures we are sure will be a beautiful feature in our new volume. The titles and prices of the pieces are:

[Note: The original list is printed in two columns.]

Union Refugees      $15
Mail Day      $10
Country Post Office [sic]      [$]15
Picket Guard      [$]6
Returned Volunteer      [$]15
Slave Auction      [$]6
Wounded Scout      [$]15
Town Pump      [$]6
One More Shot      [$]15
Camp Fire      [$]6
Home Guard      [$]15
Checker Players      [$]6
Bushwhacker      [$]15
Sharpshooters      [$]6
Taking the Oath      [$]15
Card Players      [$]6
Uncle Ned’s School      [$]15
Village Schoolmaster      [$]6
The Charity Patient      $15

Our friends who desire any of these Groups can receive them at the Artist’s prices, by sending their orders to W. M. GOODSMITH & CO., Chicago, Ill., who will furnish any desired information.

While the magazine promised 12 engravings, it delivered only four, placed in the center of the page, in articles on other subjects. They are, however, good examples not only of the difficulties of filling the pages of a periodical, but of the work of a popular American sculptor whose work now brings much more than the prices above. A white Union soldier looks to his duty; a black shoeshine pauses to study a book, so absorbed that he ignores the boy tickling his bare foot; a white country postmaster (and, apparently, the village cobbler) takes far too much interest in a letter; a white Southern mother takes the oath of allegiance to the Union from a respectful white Northern officer, in order to draw rations that will feed her family—together, the four are reminders of many aspects of the War just ended. The engravings almost do justice to the lively, intimate originals. (I discuss the engravings in greater detail below.)

Much more about John Rogers and his works—with photographs—can be found in David H. Wallace, John Rogers: The People’s Sculptor (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967).

(Clicking on the images will open versions which are larger than the originals.)

One More Shot
January 1867, p. 9: “ ‘Wounded to the Rear’: One More Shot”

[One of Rogers’ most popular sculptures, this was one of two Rogers Groups in George A. Custer’s study; see Wallace, p. 138]

Uncle Ned's School
February 1867, p. 25: “Uncle Ned’s School”

“ … Mr. Baker has done himself great credit by the admirable execution of the engraving of Uncle Ned’s School, which we give in this No.” (p. 29)

Taking the Oath
March 1867, p. 41: “Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations”

Country Postoffice
April 1867, p. 56: “Country Postoffice: News from the Army”

[This engraving is apparently of the second version of the statue; see Wallace, p. 209]

Some notes

At first glance, these engravings would seem to be from a catalog put out by Rogers’ company. However, the woodcut of “Taking the Oath” which was printed in the earliest catalog of Rogers Groups in 1866 is very different from the engraving above, in that the background of the catalog engraving is not completely filled in (see Wallace, p. 145). Also, “Sharp Shooters,” included in the Corporal’s list of sculptures for sale, was no long available, having been withdrawn from sale before the catalog was published (see Wallace, p. 204). It was, apparently, an unpopular sculpture, showing two soldiers drawing an enemy’s fire, in order to shoot him. “The Slave Auction”—a powerful piece showing a family being sold—also had been withdrawn before the catalog was printed (see Wallace, pp. 182-183). The engravings were created in Chicago, according to the signature on two. They may have been made from photographs; all four appear in a list of album photos published by Hamilton Wood, Jr. (NY), and by A. A. Childs & Co. (Boston). (Wallace, p. 299) Perhaps the engravings were created for Goodsmith, who used the pages of the Corporal as an advertising medium—and as a way to unload copies of the less-popular sculptures.

The nineteen works listed in Goodsmith’s advertisement are pictured in Wallace and listed here in chronological order:

“The Slave Auction,” originally 1859; remodeled 1860 & 1861; Wallace lists its 1861 price as $5 (pp. 182-183)

“Checker Players,” originally 1860; remodeled 1862 (pp. 184-185)

“The Village Schoolmaster,” 1861 (pp. 186-187)

“The Picket Guard,” originally 1861; remodeled perhaps 1865 or 1866 (pp. 198-199)

“Camp Life: The Card Players,” 1862 (p. 201)

“The Camp Fire: Making Friends with the Cook,” 1862 (p. 202)

“The Town Pump,” originally 1862; remodeled 1866 (pp. 202-203)

“Sharp Shooters,” 1862; not patented, & withdrawn from sale before 1866 (p. 204)

“Union Refugees,” originally 1863; remodeled 1866 & 1868 (?) (pp. 207-208)

“Country Postoffice: News From the Army,” two versions 1863 (p. 209)

“Mail Day,” 1863; one of the Rogers Groups Custer had in his study (pp. 138, 210)

“Returned Volunteer: How the Fort was Taken,” 1864 (pp. 210-211)

“The Wounded Scout: A Friend in the Swamp,” 1864 (pp. 211-212)

“Wounded to the Rear: One More Shot,” 1864 (pp. 213-214)

“The Home Guard: Midnight on the Border,” 1865 (p. 214)

“The Bushwhacker: The Wife’s Appeal for Peace,” 1865 (pp. 214-215)

“Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations,” 1865 (pp. 215-216)

“Uncle Ned’s School,” 1866 (p. 216)

“The Charity Patient,” 1866 (pp. 216-217)

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