Born in Germany to American parents, Charles Meurer is often recognized as the last great trompe l'oeil painter. Raised in Clarksville, Tennessee, as a young artist he was commissioned by Adolph Ochs, the editor of the Chattanooga Times newspaper, to paint a still life symbolizing editorial wisdom. This theme, called editorial-sanctum still life, which emphasized authority, industry, and respectability, through the depiction of symbolic objects, became a continuing theme throughout his career and influenced the creation of works of social commentary.
The young artist began his formal art training under Frank Duveneck at the Cincinnati Art Academy in 1885. The following year, Meurer was converted to trompe l'oeil painting after seeing a Michael Harnett painting executed in this style at the Cincinnati Industrial Exposition of 1886. He then expanded his art studies by traveling to Paris and Lyon, France, where Meurer studied with acclaimed artists J.P. Laurens, Bouguereau, and Doucet, at L'Academie Julian and École des Beaux-Arts.
Paintings such as Civil War Still Life commemorate and create a war memorial. This still life evokes the complicity of military life by showing both the structured regulation issue objects like the navy wool uniform, as well as hints of ordinary life for a soldier like the pipe with spilled tobacco and the letter addressed perhaps to a family member at home.
Written on a tag attached to a flask are the words Battle of Shiloh, explaining to the viewer that this painting is meant to commemorate the fallen Union soldiers who fought under the lead of General Grant in the "hornet's nest" near Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River on April 6th and 7th, 1862. Under the lead of General Johnston, who died in this battle, the Confederates performed a surprise attack on the Union troops, inflicting heavy casualties and seizing ground on the first day. However, reinforcements came for the Union the second day with General Buell and Major General Lewis Wallace, and the Union mounted a strong defense which eventually led to a Confederate retreat. Casualties of this battle were tremendous for both sides, and in fact there were as many casualties as there were in Waterloo, with 13,000 Union troops and 10,500 Confederate troops killed or wounded.