Extensive formal education, both in the United States and abroad, fully prepared Edwin D. White, a Massachusetts native, to record some of the most important scenes in the history of the South. Having begun to paint at the age of twelve, he received his first serious instruction in 1837 from Philip Hewins before moving to New York for studies with John Rubens Smith at the National Academy of Design. Several of White’s early history works were exhibited in the city, leading to his election to the National Academy of Design in 1849. In addition, the American Art-Union, a subscription-based organization seeking to enhance the sales and visibility of American artists between 1839 and1851, distributed White's images, further adding to the artist's growing reputation. Among the works he exhibited in those years were The Deathbed of Luther, Milton’s Visit to Galileo in Prison and The Old Age of Milton.
In 1851, White went to Paris, where he studied under François-Édouard Picot, and then to Düsseldorf in 1853, working with Karl Friedrich Lessing, a celebrated German romantic artist. After his time in Düsseldorf, White moved to Florence, Italy. It was there that he painted his first Southern episode, Pocahontas Informing John Smith of the Conspiracy of the Indians. For the balance of that decade, White worked primarily from Paris, including his execution of Washington Resigning His Commission, an assignment from the Maryland State Legislature. His much praised sensitivities as an historical painter served him well when he created Major Anderson Raising the Flag on the Morning of His Taking Possession of Fort Sumter, Dec. 27, 1860. Completed in 1862, the work, which captured a critical moment in the prelude to Civil War, drew on several sources in the popular press. Captain Abner Doubleday’s dramatic accounts of events in Charleston were published in New York newspapers in January 1861. An engraving on the cover of Harper’s Weekly for January 26, 1861 depicted Anderson kneeling in prayer before the flag post.
White returned to Florence in 1869, staying until 1875, when failing health prompted his return to America. Obituaries lauded the artist’s artistic and personal integrity, noting that his “aim was to illustrate historical events. Mr. White was possessed of great amiability of character and he engaged the respect and friendship of the entire profession. He was quiet and refined in his manners and the subjects illustrated in his pictures were always attuned in sentiment with some lofty motive which reflected the purity of his mind and heart.”