Civil War The South by Mort Kunstler


Civil War The South by Mort KunstlerNonfictionReview by Molly

Mort Kunstler’s – Civil War The South is a work comprising 192 pages including a Table of Contents, Introduction, original sketches, perhaps a photograph of the site or building today and the paintings, with commentary pertaining to the history of the battle, site or other reference depicted; as well as the painters personal feelings about what he was wanting to convey in the work, set against a portion of the painting as well as a two page spread of the painting itself.

Beginning on page 10 with the first battle of Manassas, 21 July 1861 Kunstler sets the scene, based upon his understanding of the history as well as his making a physical visit to the battle site in order to ‘accurately recreate the story of what happened.’  The pine woods down slope from Henry House where Gen’l Jackson and his men formed their line do indeed make a perfect back drop for the painting illustrating the moment when Bernard Bee, one of the brigade commanders rallied his men with the words which were to follow Jackson until his death and into the future where even today many people refer to the general as Stonewall.  I too have visited the Manassas Battlefield where two battles were fought along the banks of Bull Run and am always stirred with the sight of Jackson dressed in his blue VMI uniform, sitting astride Little Sorrel, ignoring the chaos of battle as he is prepared to lead his troops into the fray.

I like the manner used by this artist historian, wherein he explains a bit about the battle, or setting and what he hoped to convey, his research and how he came to use the backdrop shown in the finished piece.

Other paintings include Southern Stars; Kernstown, Virginia

“Winter 1862” beginning on page 16 in which the artist presents a scene likely played out across the south in which groups of southerners stood watching passing soldiers on the march to a battle site.  While the lovely old church depicted is not the one standing in 1862; the original was badly damaged during the battle of Kernstown, and in 1873 it was lost to fire.

“Until We Meet Again” Jackson’s Headquarters, Winchester, Va, Winter 1862 commences commentary on page 24.  There was no battle at the headquarters, however the artist chose to portray the farewell of the husband to his wife as Gen’l Jackson and Mary Anna who had come to Winchester to spend the winter in proximity to her husband.  She was a common sight at the headquarters where she often brought her husband’s supper in a basket.  In the painting the basket is shown set on the snow just behind Mary Anna.

Page 32 features “Confederate Winter”, Gen’l Taylor At Swift Run Gap, Va; March 1862.  Gen’l Taylor’s ‘likeness is based on a contemporary photograph.’

May 25, 1862, page 40, features “Gen Stonewall Jackson” Enters Winchester, Va.  Winchester was the site of several battles and changed hands back and forth throughout much of the war.  While Jackson himself did not use Stonewall as a reference for himself, he preferred that his troops be considered as the stonewall, the painting depicts a victorious Jackson and his men coming into town at 10 o’clock in the morning.

August 1862, pages 48 – 54 the Second Manassas Campaign “I Will Be Moving Within the Hour” illustrates a campsite headquarters meeting between Gen’ls Lee and Jackson.

Page 56, August 29, 1862; “The Commanders of Manassas” Gens Lee, Longstreet, and Jackson.

“Night Crossing” Lee and Jackson; September 18, 1862 is, the artist relates, ‘one of the most challenging paintings I have done in years.’  Portrayed is the final moments of Lee’s northern invasion undertaken with the hope that European recognition of the Confederacy would be augmented.  Artist Kunstler reveals the challenges of painting came as he painted the river at night with torch light reflecting in the water.  p 63 -71

Page 72, “Lee at Fredricksburg” Princess Anne Street, 9:10 AM, November 20, 1862 with three steeples as the setting for Gen’ls Lee astride Traveller and Longstreet and their entourages just prior to the Dec 11 bombardment by Union forces;

Page 80 – 87 “…War Is So Terrible” Longstreet and Lee, December 13, 1862 the Confederate victory at Fredricksburg was the site of Lee’s famous, “It is well that war is so terrible – we should grow to fond of it;

Page 88 – 95 “The Review at Moss Neck” Fredricksburg, VA, January 20, 1863, the writer relates his elation that his is the first painting of the cavalry review follow Fredricksburg battle.  A brief mention of the event in Henry Kyd Douglas’ biography of Gen’l Jackson led the artist to research the event and then paint it. Gen’l Jackson and Gen’l Lee are portrayed as Lee reviewed the command of his son Gen’l William Henry Fitzhugh ‘Rooney’ Lee.   On the left the troopers are lined up, the inspection party including Rooney Lee behind and left of his father and Jackson while Gen’l Jeb Stuart is to the right and slightly behind Gen’l Lee.  Gen’l Longstreet carries the National Flag of the Confederacy and is positioned directly behind Gen’l Stuart.

“Wayside Farewell”, p 96 – 105 the scene of a Confederate Cavalry officer and his wife exchanging goodbyes was played out many times during the war years as men prepared for carrying out their duty and worried, hopeful loved ones stayed behind.  Setting is Valley Pike in front of Larricks hotel in Middletown Va;

” Winter Riders” Raleigh, N.C. Feb 5, 1863, p 106 – 113 featuring Confederate troops and civilians representing, the artist says, North Carolina’s major contribution to The War:  its people;

“Confederate Sunset” Middletown VA, February 1863, p 114 – 121 following the battle at Fredricksburg Lee set about to fortify his position and consult with his lieutenants  Gen’ls Jackson and Longstreet, it was the last time the three commanders would be together, before the Battle of Gettysburg Gen’l Jackson would lose his life and Gen’l Lee one of his most trusted allies;

“Model Partnership” Winter of 1863 Lee and Jackson brought out the best in themselves and each other, the painting, the last of the Legends in Grey series features these two worthies during the late afternoon, p 122 -129;

“The Last Council”, Jackson, Lee, and Stuart at Chancellorsville; the artist tells us that this was one of his first paintings of the pair.  The battle at Chancellorsville proved to be Gen’l Lee’s greatest triumphs and his greatest loss.  Not long after the last council meeting Gen’l Jackson would be shot accidentally his own men, Jackson would die on May 10, 1863.  May 1, 1863 p 130 – 135.

“The Grand Review” Brandy Station, Va, June 5,1865, the artists says that after his research regarding the battle indicated that the event had not been painted.  He set out to create a work capturing the lively, flamboyant Jeb Stuart.  p 136 – 143;

“The Loneliness of Command” Gen’l Robert E Lee; the artist says he wanted to portray the dignity in addition to the burden of command.  The painting shows Gen’l sitting alone, in front of his tent, at the edge of the battlefield.  p 144 – 151;

“The High Water Mark”, Gettysburg, July 3, 1863,  the artist says it was 1988 when he set out to do a painting that would need no explanation; it would be instantly recognized as Gettysburg.  Research, visiting the battlefield, talking with historians persuaded artist Kunstler that ‘the view ‘ looking south at Cemetery Ridge just north of the Angle’ would serve his purpose for producing such a painting.    p 152 – 159;

“It’s All My Fault”, Gen’l Robert E Lee at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863 as Gen’l Lee contemplates the defeat at Gettysburg.  The idea for this painting, the artist notes, ‘was conceived as a natural sequel to the first painting I did for the American Print Gallery, titled The High Water Mark; p 152 – 167

“Confederate Christmas”  shows a snowy night with troops marching, through the woods, a conifer is laid atop a cannon barrel. Inspiration for the painting, the artist reveals is an 1860s etching.   p 168 -175;

“Thunder in the Valley” Battle of New Market, VA, May 15, 1864 artist Kunstler reveals he wanted to incorporate three important elements: The battle was fought in a huge thunderstorm, 200+ predominately teenaged, VMI cadets played a key role, and former US vice president Gen’l John C Breckenridge commanded the Confederate troops.  The resulting painting features the Bushong home which is still standing,  Gen’l Breckenridge in proximity to the cadets, on the right is an active cannon, the whole are shown in the midst of a torrential rain,  p 176 – 183;

“We Still Love You, General Lee” Appomattox, VA, April 9, 1865.  Gen’l Lee CSA portrayed with his usual dignity is returning from his meeting with Gen’l Grant USA in the little town of Appommatox Court House.  Lee had negotiated generous surrender terms for the Army of Virginia.  As Lee, shown astride Traveller, bade his men goodbye, and returned to his tent “We Still Love You, General Lee” rang from the men.   p 184 – 191

Mort Kunstler’s – Civil War The South is a, handsized, small volume comprising 192 pages filled with ‘a gallery tour of some of artist Kunstler’s favorite Confederate subjects’ per the inside flap of the protective paper cover safeguarding my particular tome.

The book itself is well made, I have had my copy for a number of years, and it has been read many times:  Cover is sturdy, pages are a good grade paper,

Of the twenty-three paintings placed on these pages, eight have not been published in a book before.  Of his works Kunstler says, ‘all of the paintings are done with a reverence for detail, authenticity, and most of all, the people of this most American of all wars.’

As a student of history, in particular the bleak period of the 1860s, I have always enjoyed reading of various battles, have visited most of the sites artist Kunstler offers in this work, and truly enjoy the book.  It is a work to read, and reread,

I like the format, a bit of explanation regarding the battle or situation, how the artist came to produce the painting as he did, sketches and small portions of the finished work, and the two page spread of the whole painting.  The small size is a handy one to carry in a back pack or purse to take out and read during moments while waiting for the train to pass, or sitting in the VA waiting room as a spouse talks with his doctor.

Mort Kunstler’s – Civil War The South is one many books in our home library.   I find much to enjoy and like about the book and am happy to recommend for other history enthusiasts, casual readers, and reenactors.  No, this small volume is not going to present every nuance regarding any battle, however it is enough to nudge the casual history buff, and can serve as a catalyst for more study.  The paintings are marvelous, preliminary sketches are interesting, and artist revelations regarding how and why he created the painting he did adds much to reader enjoyment.

Size makes the book nice as a small gift tuck in.

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