Sunday, July 21, 2013

Changes to "The Charge" - Part 1

A history painting is NEVER done . . .

I've often joked that the moment I declare a history painting "done", and put the last flourishes on my signature in the lower corner, someone will show me a long, lost letter, chock full of juicy, new facts that turn our previous ideas on their collective heads.  This is what we history painters both dread AND desire.

Well . . . it finally happened . . .

On the evening of July 1st, Pat and I unveiled "The Charge" at Gettysburg, in front of a room full of appreciative Minnesotans.  I joked to the crowd that a painting is never done until my wife wrenches the brush and palette out of my hand. I showed them my “Artistic License” (courtesy of Kenspeckle Press), and then went on to remind them that this painting is just MY interpretation, subject to change.

 (photo courtesy of Pioneer Press

On the evening of July 2nd, we spent time with fellow Minnesotans on the battlefield and participated in the rededication of the First Minnesota Regiment Monument on the spot where they initiated their charge, 150 years ago.

 (photo courtesy of Pioneer Photography

That night, my friend, Wayne Jorgenson - a founder of the First Minnesota Reenactment group, author, historian and collector- showed me the transcript of an unpublished letter written by a member of the First Minnesota Regiment who had actually participated in that famous action. This letter suggested that the opposing Minnesotans and Alabamans were farther apart than most accounts presented; that they stood up, without shelter, on opposite sides of Plum Run; and that there was no bayonet combat. 

Keep in mind that this letter was written by a soldier on the left end of the line, so his experience was limited to his narrow perspective.  A common experience amongst combat veterans was to develop tunnel vision - they can generally only recall what happened immediately around them. I feel the safest approach is to incorporate as much as possible from the accounts of all the participants.

SOOOO . . . here we go, kids!

 Change 1

It seems, according to my expert historian friends, that Colonel Colvill and the Regiment's National Colors would have been farther to the right of the line, as opposed to dead center – no pun intended. I fear the reasons for this might bore you to tears, but I like these details.  With the recent dispatch of a company to skirmish with approaching rebels, Colvill may not have had time to reposition the color party to the center of the regiment.  Like Colvill, I also have ordered these men to "Charge Bayonets", and am in the process of pulling their muskets off their shoulders and into a more threatening position.

Changes 2 and 3  

I have pushed BACK two regiments of Alabamans – the First Minnesota fought hard to do this, but I managed to wipe them out in mere minutes with my paintbrush.  Putting them back into their NEW positions will take some time, however.  This change is needed in order to create more space between the opposing sides, to delineate the separate Alabama regiments and to further distinguish them from the scrubby trees and brush along Plum Run.

Historically, these Alabamans were becoming intermingled by this point in the fight, but I need to fudge that fact just a bit to help tell the story. This where my "Artistic License" comes in mighty handy.

Now, where did I put all that gray and butternut paint?


  1. Oh dear lord....I suppose patience is a virtue.

    I just hope that someone representing the 14th Alabama doesn't come along and claim that they were wearing their home pinstripe uniforms instead of their away greys that and warfare can be dicey subjects at times!

    1. Patience? Maybe. I do think I become obsessed, at times. Sports teams, military units, Doctor Who groupies - we all have our sticking points!

  2. You amaze me with your commitment to the accuracy of your paintings! Great work Dave!

  3. You could always just make the smoke a bit thicker in places....

    Fantastic work, you have a rare talent Sir!

    1. Thats very kind of you to say. And, yes, thicker smoke would not only help obscure some things, but probably be more accurate as well.