Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Aftermath of Battle: "Collateral Damage"

This piece serves as homage to Judith Carter Henry, the first civilian killed in the Civil War.

The Notions of Safety and Security
The Final Chapter in the Life of Judith Carter Henry

In the summer of 1861, Judith Carter Henry was an 84-year-old widow, living on a small farm just south and east of the intersection of the Warrenton Turnpike and Manassas-Sudley Road near Manassas, Virginia; Spring Hill, the farm was called.  She had lived there for 35 years and, in fact, was born less than a mile away.  For most of those years she had lived a quiet farm life, marking the changing seasons with the cycle of planting and harvesting, and raising four children, watching them grow to adulthood.

But in July of 1861, things took a dramatic and unfortunate turn for the elderly widow.  Union and Confederate troops had gradually begun moving into the region, and Judith’s daughter Ellen, who lived with her mother, became gravely concerned.  In May her brother Hugh, living in Alexandria, VA, had written a letter emphasizing his belief that their mother’s “entire helplessness” should keep her safe from harm from the invading armies.  But Ellen, and another brother, John, who lived nearby, feared the worst. They determined to try to move their dear mother to safety.  Despite evidence that the fighting was edging ever closer, Judith, who was frail and bedridden at that point in her life, did not want to leave the familiar and comforting surroundings of her home.  She protested as, on the morning of July 21, they attempted to carry her from the house on a mattress, and the group made it only as far as the spring house: not only was Judith begging to be taken back, but Ellen and John also realized that the troops were too close and the situation was too dangerous to permit their plan to work.  So they returned to the house, and Judith was carried to her bed. They could only hope that Hugh’s earlier assurance of her safety would prove true.

As morning turned to afternoon, Union artillery moved their guns onto the Henry House property, not far from the house. They soon discovered they were being fired at by Confederate sharpshooters, who were either hidden inside the house, or just outside of it and using it for cover.  Since nearly all of the other residents of the immediate area had long since fled to safety, Captain James B. Ricketts had no idea there were civilians still inside.  His immediate goal was to put an end to the firing of the Confederate sharpshooters, and he shelled the house.  One of the shells burst in Judith’s bedroom, and she died of her wounds soon after.

A woman that history has recorded only as “Florence”, attended the memorial service for Judith Henry held on the grounds of the farm, two days after the battle. In a letter to her sister, she gave this account:

        The papers will have told you before this reaches you that old Mrs. Henry was killed during the
         battle…I do not think I ever felt more deeply than when I stood among the wreck and ruin of her
         home and saw the poor mangled body of the old lady placed in the coffin and borne to her last
         resting-place by stranger hands…Around the Henry garden, where a fence had stood on Sunday
         morning, was a hedge of althea, the only things that had escaped destruction.  They were loaded
         with crimson and white blossoms, and you cannot imagine how strangely they looked in their
         purity and beauty amidst that scene of desolation and death.  I stopped to gather a few of these
         “roses of Sharon” to place on the coffin…

In 1870, a new house was built to replace the one in which Judith’s life ended.  A photograph, taken in 1896, features a very elderly Hugh Henry seated on a chair on the porch of this house, the same house that stands on the battlefield today.  In the picture, just to the right side of the porch, can be seen a vigorous Rose of Sharon, quite possibly one of the very ones that were such a part of Judith’s happier times at Spring Hill.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

150 Years Ago Today, July 21, 1861: First Battle of Manassas, Part 3

This piece serves to remind us once again, that it isn't just adults who are impacted by war.

The End of Innocence
A New Day is Dawning
 The battle outside raging
will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
for the times, they are a-changing.
These Bob Dylan lyrics, though written for twentieth-century ears, also reflect the reality of the turmoil as war began to touch the lives of Americans in the summer of 1861.
 Northeastern Virginians who took the time to record their impressions noted that Sunday, July 21st, 1861, was a remarkably beautiful summer morning.   In the area near Sudley Ford over Bull Run Creek, just north of Manassas Junction, Virginia, many of the local residents were out, dressed in their Sunday finest, preparing to attend services at Sudley church.  In fact, some accounts indicate that a number of worshippers had already arrived at the church, little suspecting what was soon to unfold before them.
 Around 9 o’clock that morning, 13,000 Union troops under division commanders David Hunter and Samuel Heintzelman approached Sudley Ford, nearing completion of their flanking movement around the Confederate army; a maneuver they had begun nearly seven hours earlier.  Captain E.P. Alexander, Chief Signal Officer for General P.G.T. Beauregard  (commander of the Confederate forces in the area), positioned on a signal station on Wilcoxen Hill near Manassas Junction, was the first to spot the Federals approaching from the north: “. . .(C)areful observation. . .detailed the glitter of bayonets all along a road crossing the valley. . .” The first of the Union troops passed Sudley church around 9:30; within 30 minutes the church was converted to a battlefield hospital.
“I wish I could adequately describe the loveliness of this summer Sabbath morning.  In the midst of war we were in peace.  There was not a cloud in the sky; a gentle breeze rustled the foliage over our heads, mingling its murmurs with the soft notes of the wood-birds; the thick carpet of leaves under our feet deadened the sound of the artillery wheels and of the tramp of men.  Everybody felt the influence of the scene, and the men, marching on their leafy path, spoke in subdued tones.  A Rhode Island officer riding beside me quoted some lines from Wordsworth fitting the morning, which I am sorry I cannot recall.  Colonel Slocum of the Second Rhode Island rode up and joined in our talk about the peaceful aspect of nature around us.  In less than an hour I saw him killed while cheering on his men. . .”
 --Lieutenant Colonel Francis S. Fiske, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry

150 Years Ago Today, July 21, 1861: First Battle of Manassas, Part 2

Yesterday's post featured The Awakening, a colored pencil painting focusing on the widely-publicized Washington civilians and politicians who came out to view the battle. But this post focuses on local citizens -- and one in particular -- who viewed the battle from the other side of Bull Run creek:

Far from Home
Soldier’s Son; Reluctant Witness
Many Civil War researchers and enthusiasts are familiar with the reports of Washington civilians riding out in their carriages to view the action of the First Battle of Manassas.  But as historian David Detzer reports in Donnybrook: The Battle of Bull Run, 1861:
          Almost overlooked in the accounts was the fact that many civilians observed the battle on the opposite     
          side of Bull Run…Their vantage point was much better than the Centreville knoll, and they could see
          more of what was happening.  One of them was a boy of about twelve… He knew his father was fighting
          over there, and he wept.
 In reading this, I was immediately struck by the idea that this is the sort of personal reality which is so often overlooked in the general histories, and yet it is so representative of what war “feels like” for those individuals who are caught up in it. Upon researching further, I learned that a woman known to us only as “Florence”, who was presumably the wife of a Confederate officer stationed near Manassas, had come to the area to stay with family in order to be closer to her husband. As a result, she found herself right in the midst of the turmoil of the battle. In a letter to her sister dated July 24th, 1861, she describes her encounter with this young boy on the afternoon of July 21, in an area close to the field of battle known as the “Douglas Heights”:
         Near me, on a noble horse that bore the marks of long and hasty travel, sat a boy of about twelve years
         old, the son of Colonel B____s, who had come from his home near Aldie that morning. His large blue
         eyes were fixed upon the distant scene, and his handsome features were convulsed with pain as he
         exclaimed aloud: “My father is in the midst of the fight; I must go to him!”  More than one detaining hand
         was laid upon his (sic) bridle, and several old men, gathering around him, represented the impossibility of
         finding his father in such a scene…I felt the tears dimming my eyes as I strove to speak some words of
         comfort to the boy.
With little solid information about this boy, I considered what may have gone through his mind, as he rode out alone some twenty miles from his home to this field of battle. He was probably driven by a desire to see his father, whom he may not have seen in a while.  He may have thought, in initially heading out, that it would be exciting to witness the battle; he may have imagined that his father would be easy to locate; he may have been thinking back to the pageantry of parades or rallies he witnessed in the several months past. But when he arrives, he is totally unprepared for the fearful spectacle he sees: the smoke, the noise, the confusion, the vast number of troops – the “machinery” of war. 
 The paper in his hand is my own symbolic addition. Is it a letter from his father providing details about his company?  Is it a letter the boy wrote, hoping to get it to his father?  Is it a map? Regardless, it is the implication of a simple, basic human desire to connect with a loved one; a human need that, sadly, must be suppressed if the machinery of war is to be effective. Still, his deeply personal connection to the battle will not allow him the sort of detached curiosity that typified the mood of the Washington civilians watching from the other side of Bull Run Creek.

If you would like to see more of my Civil War-themed work, or are interested in ordering prints, please visit my website at or email me at 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

150 Years Ago: First Battle of Manassas, Part I

The official 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas (or First Battle of Bull Run) is tomorrow, July 21. But I have three different images I want to post that correspond to that
day, and rather than post three in one day, I prefer to spread them out a bit. This first piece relates to the civilians and politicians who came out from Washington to view the battle.

The Awakening
A “Picnic” Spoiled

Students of history have been amazed and appalled at the reports of Washington socialites who rode in carriages dressed in their Sunday finery and carrying picnic baskets to catch a glimpse of the fighting at the first major battle of the Civil War.  But it is these smartly-dressed civilians who so perfectly symbolized the nation’s naïve view of the war in July 1861. 

Historical writers who had not personally witnessed the event, as well as some who had, were prone to sensationalize the circumstances surrounding the civilian spectators.   Judith McGuire of Virginia derisively described the group as having a “right royal picnic on the field of blood” even though she was not there to witness it.   A war correspondent for the London Times, William Howard Russell, was present and wrote perhaps the most famous account of the scene, that included the suggestion that “a few of the fairer, if not gentler sex” were not only present but thrilling to the sounds and sights of battle.  Historian John Hennessy has concluded that by “revel(ing) in the follies of our ancestors…(w)e have contorted the image into a carnival: civilians sprawled about on blankets on the edge of the battlefield, nibbling on picnic lunches while watching death and carnage…”

Why did an estimated 500 civilians set out on that Sunday morning to ride several hours through deeply rutted and difficult roads on horseback or in horse-drawn carriages to witness a battle that would claim the lives of 847 men with more than three times that many soldiers wounded?  Politicians and newspapers foretold of a war, if there was to be war, that would be of very short duration and with few casualties.  Most Americans in 1861 had only read about wars and those wars had been portrayed as noble and glorious.  As Hennessy explains, “most were spurred forth by a sense that they were going to witness something spectacular, something momentous.”   

And what did these spectators see?  From the vantage point depicted here – the heights just west of Centreville, Virginia, nearly five miles from the battle site – not much more than occasional clouds of smoke and glints of steel.  Most if not all of the female spectators returned to Washington long before the battle ended, as did many of the news reporters present, leaving them with very little hard battle news to report. A few of the male civilians, frustrated with the limited view from this location, moved to a second location on the heights just east of the stone bridge and within a mile of the field of battle; some of them would eventually find themselves caught up in the Union retreat. 

But regardless of how little or how much they would actually see at that moment, there is no doubt that for these spectators and for all Americans, this day would mark a transformation in their attitudes. As historian David Detzer writes, “After that terrible day it would be impossible for thinking people – on either side – to feel so casual about war.  Bloodier battles would be fought in the next few years. . .but none would be quite so educational.”  The “picnic”of American life had been rudely interrupted.

For a key to the individuals depicted in The Awakening,

If you would like to see more of my Civil War-themed work, or are interested in ordering prints, please visit my website at or email me at  

Sunday, July 17, 2011

150 Years Ago Today, July 17, 1861, Part 2: Union Troops on the March to Bull Run Creek in Virginia

Road to Bull Run

Calm Before the Storm

As the war began to unfold in the summer of 1861, the vast majority of Union soldiers were volunteers who had received very little military training, unused to the discipline of military life. The 25-mile march from Washington, D.C. to Manassas Junction, Virginia was hot and boring and subject to many halts, due to the difficulty of mobilizing such large numbers of men. On these occasions, the soldiers found other ways to entertain themselves:

“July 17, 1861. On the way (from Annandale to Fairfax Court House, Virginia) we found an old railroad embankment, and I never saw blackberries more plenty. We stopped and ate what we wanted. . .July 21. Almost nine o’clock in the forenoon we reached Sudley church. . .We now took a side road that skirted a piece of woods and marched for some distance, the men amusing themselves with laughter and jokes, with occasional stops for berries. . .” -- Private Elisha Hunt Rhodes, Company D, Second Rhode Island Volunteers

“They stopped every moment to pick blackberries or get water, they would not keep in the ranks, order as much as you pleased. . .” -- Union General Irvin McDowell

“. . .for all my personal efforts I could not prevent the men from straggling for water, blackberries, or anything on the way they fancied.” -- Union Colonel William Tecumseh Sherman

If you would like to see more of my Civil War-themed work, or are interested in ordering prints, please visit my website at or email me at 

150 Years Ago Today, July 17, 1861, Part I: Confederates at Blackburn's Ford, Viriginia


Road to Manassas

Hopes Burn Bright

Prior to the first major battle of the Civil War – first Manassas, as it was later known to Confederates, or First Bull Run, as it was would be called by Federals – recruits of both sides were quite naïve about the realities of war. Nearly everyone believed that this would be a war of short duration, that a single battle would resolve the matter, and that what few deaths might result would be quick and glorious. For many young men who had never been away from their farms or home towns, the war was viewed as a “grand adventure” which they would enjoy describing to their grandchildren years into the future. An atmosphere of youthful enthusiasm, bravado, and high spirits pervaded the camps.

This image is inspired by an account taken from the memoirs of Alexander Hunter, who when only a teenager enlisted with the 17th Virginia Infantry. It features members of the regiment (Hunter is at the far left) around a campfire at Blackburn’s Ford on the night of July 17, 1861. The next morning would find these troops involved in a skirmish with Federals that would become a prelude to the First Battle of Manassas.

Hunter recounts some of the early notions of his fellow compatriots: “Imaginative battles were rather of the ‘Iliad’ order – a few rounds, then a rush of cold steel and all was over. It was agreed that Company A should go into action with each man carrying a revolver in his belt and a bowie-knife in his bootleg; it would look decidedly war-like and unique. . . .There was one little fellow, a private named Hunter, who grew meditative as the discussions waxed more thrilling. . .This bowie-knife business might be a very good thing, he thought, for immense fellows. . .but for a sixteen-year-old soldier of ninety-seven pounds fighting weight, it might not prove so very amusing after all.”

If you would like to see more of my Civil War-themed work, or are interested in ordering prints, please visit my website at or email me at 

Reception at the Hauser Winery on Saturday, July 16

I just wanted to take a minute to say "thanks" to my daughter, Laura, and son-in-law, Greg, for their help with my Artist's Reception at Hauser Winery. Laura has worked in the hospitality industry for quite a few years and was very much at-ease with creating a beautiful presentation with the simple fare we'd brought. Greg took the lead on the loading and unloading of supplies and all in all, it couldn't have gone any more smoothly. Plus, it was great fun to have them for a visit from Cincinnati. The second photo I took of them and their two English Springer Spaniels, Remy and Roxie, while we walked through Devil's Den on the Gettysburg battlefield, near sunset. It's great to have the support of your family!

The exhibit of my work at Hauser Winery (410 Cashtown Road in Biglerville, PA, just west of Gettysburg and a little north of Rte. 30) will continue through August 17. Hope you get a chance to stop out!

Friday, July 15, 2011

150 Years Ago, Mid-July 1861: While the soldiers were marching...

Rose O’Neal Greenhow

Red-Hot Fires of Patriotism

As the 1860’s began, Rose O’Neal Greenhow was a wealthy, attractive and outgoing widow, who made no effort to conceal her strong Southern sympathies. Living just across Lafayette Park from the White House in Washington, D.C., and being a very popular member of Washington’s highest social circles, Rose was strategically positioned to secure information valuable to her beloved Confederate cause.

Armed with these facts, Col. Thomas Jordan, a United States officer with strong Southern sympathies of his own, approached Rose about developing a Confederate spy ring, and supplied her with a cipher code to use in sending messages. By April of 1861, Rose had developed a network of spies, ranging from ordinary household servants – to whom she referred as her “little birds” – to prominent professionals and government officials.

Through the assistance of this network, Rose was able to provide General P.G.T. Beauregard with the timetable for the Union advance on Manassas. On July 10th, a courier delivered a small package to Brigadier General Milledge Bonham to forward to General Beauregard. The package, a piece of black silk folded to the size of a silver dollar, contained the message informing General Beauregard that General Irvin McDowell would lead 35,000 Union troops out of Washington on July 16th.

Subsequent information from Rose described McDowell’s plan to advance through Arlington, Alexandria, and Centreville, Virginia on his way to his objective of destroying the railroad lines at Manassas Junction. Because this information allowed the Rebels time to consolidate their forces, Jefferson Davis credited Rose with helping the Confederate army to achieve this first major victory.

If you would like to see more of my Civil War-themed work, or are interested in ordering prints, please visit my website at or email me at 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

150 Years Ago Today: July 14, 1861

Waiting for War
“My Dear Sarah…”
Waiting for War depicts the importance placed on writing and receiving letters, in the lives of all soldiers, in an age before telephones, pagers and email; a time when letters were about the only means of communicating with loved ones far away.  Letters were looked upon as treasures, and families saved them for years afterwards.  Letter-writing was a serious, almost sacred activity to those involved in it.  And when one of the writers was a soldier preparing for battle, the letter took on additional meaning, since there was a real possibility it could be his last.
A letter written by Major Sullivan Ballou of the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry serves as the inspiration for this image.  While at Camp Clark, near Washington, D.C. on July 14, 1861 – one week prior to the first Battle of Manassas – Major Ballou wrote a very moving letter home to his wife, describing his feelings about fighting for his country as well as the depth of his love for her.  The intense internal conflict he experienced over his divided loyalties to country and family are vividly described in this, his last letter, which was never mailed but found amongst his belongings upon his death in battle a week later.

To read the text of Major Ballou's letter, please visit:

To see more of my Civil War-themed work, or to inquire about purchasing originals or prints, please visit my website at, or email me at

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

150 Years Ago this Month: American Families Prepare for War, Part 3

This is another piece in my Beyond the Battlefield series aimed at showing how war impacted all portions of society, regardless of age or sex:

No Idle Hands
"There is Much for Us to Do, and We Must Do It!"

The statement above, made by Judith McGuire, a resident of Alexandria, Virginia (and a refugee for much of the war), illustrates the "commitment to their cause" demonstrated by women in both North and South as war became a reality. Almost as quickly as American men began enlisting in the war effort, American women began doing all they could to support them.

From the very beginning, it was obvious that many things would be needed by the soldiers which the women they left at home could supply: underclothing, shirts, pants, blankets, etc. Women of the era were trained from a young age to knit, crochet and sew a wide variety of items, so it was only natural that in such a time they would gather together to produce them in great quantity.  Lucy Wood of Charlottesville, Virginia spoke volumes in a letter to her fiancee when she wrote, “Our needles are now our weapons. . .”  In numerous diary accounts of the early war effort, however, it becomes obvious that the non-stop needlework was prompted by more than just a desire to provide for loved ones; activity was a constructive way of dealing with anxiety. Virginian Sara Pryor said it well: “To be idle in war is torture.”

Sunday, July 10, 2011

150 Years Ago this Month: American Families Prepare for War, Part 2

The men who determined to volunteer were faced with a painful moment of separation -- saying goodbye to family left behind. Often we see images created from the point of view of adults, but because of my firm conviction that war and the upheaval brought on by it affects all members of a society, I wanted to create some images that told the story from the point of view of the children. A Promise to Return is the first of those images.

This has been one of the most popular pieces in my Beyond the Battlefield series, and I suspect that is because it conveys a timeless scenario: with our current military involvements we have watched this scene played out countless times in the media and within our own communities and families, as have Americans of many other generations. The clothing changes but the emotional impact does not.

To view my entire body of Civil War artwork, I invite you to visit

Saturday, July 9, 2011

150 Years Ago this Month: American Families Prepare for War, Part 1

When I made the decision to pursue the genre of Civil War art, I felt I needed a direction -- something that would tie my individual images together in a cohesive fashion. What made the most sense to me was to work through the various events and scenarios of the war in a chronological fashion, and the colored pencil drawing above, Conflict of Interest, thus became the first piece in the series.

When it became obvious that war was becoming a reality for 1860's Americans and volunteers would be needed in large numbers, couriers were sometimes sent out to those who lived on farms outside of towns to deliver the news and encourage enlistment. My research indicates that many American men at that time were actually relieved to see this day come; war had been threatened for so long that there was an almost "let's get this over with" mentality. But as a wife and a mother, my perspective is different; I was imagining a young mother with small children at home, interrupted from a quiet tea with her husband, anxious of how this turn of events would affect all of their lives in the days to come.

To view my entire body of Civil War artwork, I invite you to visit my website at