A blindfolded prisoner named Johnson awaits his fate as a firing squad prepares to execute him. A clergyman at right intones the final prayers, and a soldier behind the firing squad checks his watch so that the prisoner will be shot at the appointed time.
This pencil-and-chalk drawing was made by twenty-one-year-old Alfred Wordsworth Thompson, an artist for Harper's Weekly and the Illustrated London News who made a series of nineteen drawings during the opening months of the Civil War, all of them set in Virginia. A handwritten caption at bottom identifies the scene as the "Death of Johnson - Fryday [sic ] Dec. 13th 1861," but the artist fails to note the reason for the military execution.
Though born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1840, Thompson had spent considerable time in Virginia, as his maternal grandparents lived there and he had often summered with them. After sketching scenes of military life in Virginia in 1861, Thompson went to Paris, where he pursued studies in art. He later became a well-known artist of historical genre paintings of American colonial life and Revolutionary-era scenes; he also produced Orientalist paintings based on time he spent in North Africa and Asia Minor. He died at fifty-five.