The painting symbolises Church's views of events at the time of the American Civil War. The reason is that he made use of weather and terrain to convey the emotions of war. The volcano in the picture was a popular metaphor at the time. It symbolises the destructive force that war is. Equally, the ash clouds were likened to cannon smoke moving across the battlefield. For the American public, the picture had an enormous impact. Through the imagery of the painting, they saw it as making a statement about the Civil War.
Frederic Edwin Church (May 4, 1826 – April 7, 1900) was an American landscape painter born in Hartford, Connecticut. He was a central figure in the Hudson River School of American landscape painters, best known for painting large landscapes, often depicting mountains, waterfalls, and sunsets. Church's paintings put an emphasis on realistic detail, dramatic light, and panoramic views. He debuted some of his major works in single-painting exhibitions to a paying and often enthralled audience in New York City. In his prime, he was one of the most famous painters in the United States.
Church made two trips to South America in 1853 and 1857 and stayed predominantly in Quito, Ecuador. The first trip was with businessman Cyrus West Field, who financed the voyage, hoping to use Church's paintings to lure investors to his South American ventures. When Church returned in 1857 with painter Louis Rémy Mignot, he added to his landscape paintings of the area. After both trips, Church had produced a number of landscapes of Ecuador and the Andes.