Today is the anniversary of the second and last day of the bloody American Civil War battle of Shiloh, so naturally I'm blogging about Gettysburg. Actually, there is a logical connection here, and it has to do with the illustrations used for this post and the 1880s fad of panoramic battlefield cycloramas, the most famous of which is Paul Phillipoteaux's monumental depiction of Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. There was once a Shiloh Cyclorama as well, though not one of Phillipoteaux's, and while photographs of some of its sections survive the work itself is missing.
I visited the Gettysburg battlefield for the first time on a family Spring vacation trip in the 6th grade. The Cyclorama made a huge impression on me, and when I returned home I set about creating a version of my own. I was that kind of kid. My tools were not a platoon of talented assistants, canvas and oil, but felt-tip markers and a long roll of newsprint. I worked from left to right, adding detail and expanding the view as I moved from Little Round Top through Devil's Den, The Wheat Field, The Peach Orchard, and on to the copse of trees at the Confederate High Water Mark. It took most of my 7th grade year to complete, and you can see my talent progress the more the scene shifts to the right. As always, click to enlarge.
The whole thing is about nine feet long and there are hundreds of individual figures. There are many more confederates, though my northern loyalties had yet to be challenged by the opportunity to reenact as a confederate cavalry trooper that soon would come my way. The view is from Cemetery Ridge looking west, so there are presumably several corps worth of union reserves behind those few seen defending the stone wall at Pickett's charge. I blended the second and third day's action into my recreation, leaving out the Union right at Culp's Hill, as so many visitors to the battlefield also do. I had not yet read The Killer Angels, so Gouverneur Kemble Warren is depicted on the crest of Little Round Top instead of the overly emphasized Chamberlain. I was interested in depicting as many vignettes of the battle as possible, so there are numerous portraits of significant figures and signature events.
I did not shy away from representing the carnage of battle - in fact, red magic marker made for some luridly bloody wounds. Poor Dan Sickles loses his leg, but I rather thought it served him right for advancing the Union III Corps so far out of position during the 2nd days battle. Marse Robert on Traveler is really scaled too large for someone observed across nearly a mile of field, but the telescoped view allows for details like his careworn face, and is that a tear streaking the commander's cheek? The battle smoke casts an appropriate pall over General Lee as the ragged lines reach the stone wall and the charge hangs in the balance.
I spent a lot of time on the Pickett's Charge section of my cyclorama. The regiments advance en echelon across the Emmitsburg Road and toward the copse of trees. I dismounted Pickett (and slaughtered his horse) but was true enough to history to have him observe his division's advance from a farmhouse midway across the field. Winfield Scott Hancock rallies the Union line at the bottom of the section depicted at right, while a caisson burns and fence rails come down as the confederates near the 19th Massachusetts and other II Corps defenders of Cemetery Ridge. I got better at drawing horses - dead ones in particular - but modeled them after ones by Phillipoteaux. The battlefield is strewn with rocks, a feature of the landscape that I observed on my visit and faithfully recorded in my depiction.
My green magic marker was getting very tired by the time I got to Cushing's last shot and Armistead's hundreds crossing the wall, so the fresh one gives the impression that perhaps the confederates were storming across fields of winter wheat instead of sun-bleached straw. The 72nd PA in Zouave regalia rush forward to blunt the confederate tide. Things look suitably desperate at this point, but off to the right there are already troops moving out against the confederates with flanking fire and in a moment, Armistead will fall.
Like Phillipoteaux, who painted himself into his grand panorama in an officer's uniform leaning up against a tree, I also included a self portrait. I probably shouldn't be smiling, but perhaps that is a grimace as I struggle to draw my sword. The uniform is modeled on a blue shirt with buttons and braid from an Army/Navy store sewn on by my mom and in which, as I may have mentioned, I was known to lead the neighborhood kids about in playing Civil War. I am leaning against one of the trees in the famous copse, witness to history as I imagined it.
I can't begin to add up the number of hours I spent on this creation. It impressed my art teacher when she learned of its existence sufficiently to have it displayed at the Bardavon Opera House in Poughkeepsie, New York in a show of student artwork. Like the cyclorama of Phillipoteaux, it is fragile and has spent many years in storage, but unlike so many of those grand panoramas it still exists, and I shake my head in wonder that a 7th grader created such a thing. Like I say, I was that kind of kid.