Idyllic scenes of boatmen and fur traders at leisure along the Missouri River and boisterous renditions of small-town politics made George Caleb Bingham one of the most celebrated artists of the mid-nineteenth century. The distribution of his paintings and engravings by lottery through the American Art Union to its widespread membership established his works as the quintessential images of frontier life. These works are captivating not only for the many colorful activities and character types they depict, but also for their ordered, geometric composition, the figure studies incorporated into each, and the distinctive, velvety qualities of the artist’s color and light.
The melodramatic "Order No. 11," created late in Bingham’s career, lacks the finesse and grace of his earlier pictures. Here Bingham was more concerned with his message. The painting dramatizes the inhumanity of the order issued in 1863 by Union Brigadier General Thomas Ewing. In an attempt to squelch the violent skirmishes between Missouri slaveholders and anti-slavery Kansans, Ewing demanded the evacuation of all rural residents of the Missouri counties along the Kansas border.
The painting features a slave-owning family whose son has been killed, their belongings plundered, and their home and crops set on fire. To emphasize the nobility of the family patriarch, the artist paints him in the same pose as the classical Greek sculpture the "Apollo Belvedere." Bingham, although a Union supporter, could not condone the atrocities legitimized by Order No. 11 and exclaimed, “If God spares my life, with pen and pencil I will make this order infamous in history.”