Stephen Crane

"The Civil War and American Art" is one of the first in a wave of regional creative projects about the conflict

The lone Union sentry stands atop Federal Hill, outlined against an ominous orange/red sky. In the distance, the tops of the Washington Monument and several spires rise above the city, as straight and determined as the rifle held in the soldier's left arm.

"Fort Federal Hill at Sunset, Baltimore, 1862," by Sanford Robinson Gifford, seems to speak volumes about the wrenching chapter in our history, a Civil War that, in so many ways, has never really been settled.

The Gifford work is among 57 paintings and 18 photographs in an absorbing and revelatory exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, "The Civil War and American Art." Its one of various cultural...