Schell was born in Philadelphia and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He became a “special artist for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper in 1862 and did drawings at Antietam in that year. In 1863, Frank Leslie assigned him to General Ulysses S. Grant’s army at Vicksburg where he drew the desperate hand-to-hand combat of the second futile assault by Union troops on May 18 and detailed scenes of the subsequent siege of the city. When the Confederate General John C. Pemberton and his exhausted and starving troops surrendered on July 4, Schell sketched the stacking of Confederate weapons while Union troops sat watching the enemy file by. He captured the somber meeting of the two generals and the silent march of the Federal army through the shell-scarred streets of Vicksburg. Leslie published these drawings along with those of Edwin Forbes at Gettysburg in a special supplementary issue of Leslie’s in late July. In all, Leslie’s published 43 of Schell’s wartime drawings. His work was also published in Century magazine and in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (1884-1887), and he did illustrations for Picturesque Canada (1879) and for The Picturesque Atlas of Australia (1886). He served as art director for Harper & Brothers. The Becker Collection contains drawings done by Schell in Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee in 1863.