Richards, a Swiss-born immigrant, arrived in New York in 1854 with his wife Esther. In May 1861, as a naturalized citizen, Richards enlisted in Company K of New York’s 59th Infantry Volunteer Regiment.1 In addition to the Battle of Fredericksburg, the 59th Infantry Regiment fought at the Battle of Antietam, and later at the Battle of Gettysburg. Richards was wounded at Antietam and was sent to recuperate at the Mower Hospital in Chestnut Hill outside of Philadelphia. Though he had seemingly never studied as an artist, it is at this time that he began creating crude sketches and later made drawings on zinc plates.2
Following his discharge from the army, Richards remained in Germantown, Pennsylvania and became the sexton of the Calvary P.E. church, and during his spare time made many sketches.3 A collection of his engravings are included in Quaint old Germantown in Pennsylvania: a series of sixty former landmarks of Germanton and vicinity drawn on zinc during the years 1863-1888 by John Richards, which was annotated by the Philadelphia historian Julius Friedrich Sachse (1842-1919) and published in 1913.
Sachse once wrote of Richards: He began sketching some of the old landmarks and buildings of Germantown. From these crude sketches he later made drawings on zinc plates from which an impression could be taken by the lithographic process. Richard's drawings were more or less harsh and lacking in detail especially where he attempted to introduce figures or animals often somewhat our of perspective. At the same time, considering the fact that he never had any instruction in art, these sketches have a merit and individuality of their own. Their chief value, however, consists in the fact that they have preserved to us and generations to come the values and landmarks of historic and quaint Germantown of days gone by.4
1 Lisabeth M. Holloway, “John Richards (1831-1889) and His Sketchbook,” Germantown Crier, (Philadelphia: Germantown Historical Society, 1981).
2 The Pennsylvania Federation of Historical Societies: Acts and Proceedings (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: United Evangelical Publishing House, 1914), p. 56.
3 See ibid.
4 Lisabeth M. Holloway, “John Richards (1831-1889) and His Sketchbook,” Germantown Crier, (Philadelphia: Germantown Historical Society, 1981).
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