Tuesday, May 17, 2011

April 1861: War Hits Home

Sometimes written histories can lead us into considering war only in the abstract. But the Civil War, like all wars, was experienced deeply by the individuals of the era. This is the first of several posts of my artwork, meant to illustrate examples of the personal realities of the War.

In April of 1861, as President Lincoln put out his call for 75,000 volunteers after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, James P. Mills, the oldest son of Galen and Elizabeth Mills of Ripley Township in Huron County, Ohio, was a student at Baldwin University (now Baldwin-Wallace College) in Berea. Though nearing the completion of his education, Mills was thoroughly convinced that the proper place for him at this time was in the service of his country. Unlike many other Northern recruits, however, who insisted that theirs was simply a fight to save the union, Mills’ own stated cause was the elimination of “accursed slavery”, and his fervor was fed by his environment, as he writes in his letter to his siblings that “the faculty are for war to a man”.

While this Ohio college student in his early twenties pens a letter brimming with idealism, a letter written at the same time by his mother to her other children bears a slightly different attitude. She is in Berea at the time the call for volunteers is made, and witnesses all of the pageantry and patriotic zeal: rallies to recruit volunteers held every evening, a procession of citizens through the town accompanied by martial music and the firing of cannon, speeches by faculty and students in favor of taking up arms, and a campus flag-raising by her own son and another soon-to-be soldier. She understands the needs of the country, and her convictions tell her that she must not stand in the way of her son doing what he feels is his duty, but her heart is overwhelmed by the sentiments of a mother fearful of losing her child. In fact, on James’ own letter, she has included a sentence hastily scrawled in the margin: “kep [sic] this letter safe it may be the last from J.”

To see this and other colored pencil images in my series, Beyond the Battlefield, please visit http://www.civilwarfineart.com/. Or better yet, stop in to my gallery, Civil War Fine Art, 333 Baltimore Street, Gettysburg, PA, this summer and especially during History Meets the Arts (June 16 - 19), a part of the Gettysburg Festival, June 10 - 19!

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