Civil War Oil Paintings

Civil War Oil Paintings

(Text of the mini-bit speech)

Last year, I picked up a new hobby -------- oil painting, and I would like to show some of my paintings related to the American Civil War with you tonight.

"Brother against Brother"

The first painting is called "Brother against Brother" oil on canvas, 18" x 24".
This is a war of brothers. The most famous was the Crittenden brothers, who served as Union Major General and the Confederate Major General. Next, there came the Drayton brothers. Older brother Percival served as a Captain on a Union ship while his brother Thomas led the rebel army, defending Ft. Walker in Hilton Head. Percival's Battleship USS Pocahontas fired many volleys at his brother's men. Of course, there were many lesser known brothers fighting on both sides, especially on the border states like Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland. During the siege of Vicksburg, soldiers on both sides fraternized frequently. If you don't look at their uniforms, you can't tell the difference. That's why I painted them in silhouette. You can't distinguish one from the other. They are the same people. They are brothers, literally and metaphorically.

The scene could fit anywhere or any battle.

The background is a vast pastural field, where the sunset casts the silhouette shadows of the combatants, fighting for freedom, in this beautiful landscape. The use of the radiant colors was inspired by a scene of the movie Gone with the Wind, when Scarlet O'Hara swore she would not get hungry again, in front of an oak tree at sunset.

"Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's House"

The second painting is titled "Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's House" oil on canvas, 16" x 20"
The location of the House is in Brunswick, Maine. Could you guess whose house is it? It is "Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's House."

I had the opportunity to visit the house. I took a picture and painted from the picture. The dark parts are the shadows of the house. I also paid my respect at the General's grave nearby.

In 1859, Professor Chamberlain purchased a Cape-Cod style house built in 1825 on Potter Street in Brunswick, Maine. This simple house was typical of its period, with Greek Revival details, a double parlor design and a center entry. The Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his wife lived there in the 1830's. After the war in 1867, Chamberlain added a Maltese cross, his Fifth Corps insignia, on the chimney. In 1871, Chamberlain raised the house 11 feet in the air and built a Victorian Gothic-Italian first floor underneath. He entertained guests including Generals Grant, McClellan, Sherman and Sheridan; literary figures Harriet Beecher Stowe, Helen Keller and Longfellow.

In 1939, Chamberlain's granddaughter sold the house. The new owner rented it to Bowdoin College students. In 1983, the Pejepscot Historical Society purchased the building and restored it to the present Chamberlain Museum.

"General Robert E. Lee"

The third painting is the portrait of "General Robert E. Lee" oil on canvas, 16" x 20"
This is one version of Lee, the field commander of the army of Northern Virginia. I attempted to focus on drawing the majestic Lee himself and so I left out any distracting background scene. Only the blue sky and the soil ground were used.

You see his gray uniform, his three stars on the collars, his sword, his belt, his buckle, his slash, his gloves and his binoculars. He is holding a map with one hand and lifting his hat with another. In the Gettysburg movie, you watched his soldiers cheering him. Actually he had ordered his men not to make any noise so that their hidden position under the trees would not be revealed. His men lifted their hats, greeting him silently, and Lee did likewise.

Lee had small feet and wore size 6 shoes. I drew his boots a little larger and made him look a little more magnificent.

When his army passed through Maryland / Pennsylvania, a woman exclaimed, referring to Lee, " I wish he were ours. He looks so grand."

Lee had to go with his State to preserve his honor. Lee was admired and respected by both sides.

"Sherman's March"

The fourth painting is "Sherman's March" oil on canvas, 16" x 20"
I used Grandma Moses folk art style to paint this picture.

The scene could be in Georgia, but it is more likely in South Carolina, judging from the intensity of the burning fire. Sherman's "bummers" knew what to do in South Carolina without being told. "This is where Secession started and this is where it should end." It said it all. When the Southerners were at peace, Sherman was very fond of them. He was stationed at Charleston in his early army life, enjoyed plenty of southern hospitality and made a lot of friends. He considered living in the South was one of the best times of his life. It was his friends Beauregard and Bragg who got him the job as the Superintendent of the Louisiana Military Academy. In his March to the Sea, he bypassed Charleston. He ordered his soldiers to stand guard to the houses of his old southern friends who asked for protection from the wrath of his "bummers." May the Lord have mercy to this land.

"Burnside's Army crossing the Rappahannock"

The fifth painting is "Burnside's Army crossing the Rappahannock" oil on board, 32" x 46".
The picture is Burnside's Army crossing the Rappahannock to Fredericksburg.

Ambrose Burnside is Mr. Nice Guy, but he was so unlucky. Just imagine if the weather cooperated a little, and if the temperature was a little colder, on that second week of December 1862, the Rappahannock would be frozen and his army would have crossed the river straight to Richmond. He won't have to waste 17 days waiting for the pontoon bridges supplied by the War Department. Lee would have no time to build his defense line in Marye's Height, and no time to march and block the army of the Potomac. But it wasn't meant to be for him to take Richmond.

I found a Leslie drawing on Burnside crossing the Rappahannock and I worked on the painting based on that drawing. I also had visited Fredericksburg and saw the Rappahannock. The scenery changed a little, as more houses were built along the coast. If I use my imagination and take out three-quarters of the houses and added more trees and shrubs, Fredericksburg would look like the same town in the Civil War time.

Marye's Height is behind the village. I added some dark cloud in front of the Army of the Potomac, whereas from Lee's perspective, it would be all sunshine for him. When the Confederates opened fire, even a chicken won't survive. I made Burnside's army marching in good parade order, giving them martial dignity. In reality, it was a helter-skelter attack with Union soldiers getting shot at and falling down everywhere. They got even more slugs after they passed the village and tried to take Marye's Height.

This is a scene of calmness before the storm.

"Sullivan Ballou's letter to his wife, Sarah"

The sixth picture is "Sullivan Ballou's letter to his wife, Sarah" pastel on paper, 24" x 36".

My daughter drew this one. For those who went to the Nantucket picnic would have met her.
She was fascinated with the letter and used it as one of her art project.

For those who had seen Ken Burn's PBS television The Civil War, you would have known Sullivan Ballou, the major of the Second Rhode Island Volunteer Regiment, who wrote a letter to his wife, Sarah, and predicted his own death, on the first battle of Bull Run.

Because of the time limitation, I am not going to read the whole letter. But I will quote one short line that my daughter tried to draw.

"-------- and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by ---------"

My daughter tried to draw the wind and the spirit ----- in the interpretation of contemporary figures. Sullivan's wife, Sarah tried to hold on to his spirit, for just a little while. Sarah had just read a sympathy letter from the War Department, stating her husband was dead as a casualty of combat. (My daughter made this up, drawing from today's military protocol.)

Sullivan Ballou had a dilemma. He had to choose between the love of his country and the love of his family. He chose the former.

Please notice the broken red heart. If you look carefully, you may notice that the heart is made of the northern half and the southern half of the shape of the United States. You could also see the blue and gray colors, representing the Union force and the Confederate force.

(The speech was delivered 1999.)

Copyright (C), all rights reserved.

Author and Webmaster, Gordon Kwok

First posted on March 11, 2001
Uploaded on current server: March 19, 2009