Civil War Sketcher

A few years ago a friend, who is a Civil War enactor, told me about the men who sketched Civil War battles, as they happened! He asked if I wanted to suit up and sketch one of their reenactments.

I didn’t get a chance to go back in time and sketch a “battle” but the idea of a sketcher that followed an army and pulled out a pencil and paper when battle erupted, truly intrigued me.

The age of photography was at least 30 years old by the time of the outbreak of the Civil War. However it was not a good medium for capturing a battle. The reason for this was that the camera had to be on a tripod and subjects had to hold still because of the long exposures necessary to expose an image on a glass plate. That is why many photographs of the Civil War generals or soldiers are of seated and sometimes standing, in rigid, staged poses. The other common photographs are of the dead, after a battle (the dead hold still, really well).

A photograph of dead soldiers at Gettysburg taken after the battle. (Tim O’ Sullivan/ Library of Congress)

Photography proved to be an unsuitable medium for capturing a battle but a field sketch could be done quickly and then the field sketch would be sent back to New York and turned into an engraving, creating plates for illustrated newspapers.

One of the most notable Civil War Sketchers was Alfred Waud. He was born October 2, 1828 in London. As an art student he studied to be a marine painter. In the end he did not pursue this style but instead he painted theatrical scenery. Waud sailed for New York in 1850 in pursuit of work.

Waud is most well known for following the Army of the Potomac and sketching every battle from the first Bull Run to the Siege of Petersburg in 1965. During this time he worked for the New York Illustrated New and then he 1861, he sketched for Harper’s Weekly.

Waud’s sketch of the death of General John Reynolds at Gettysburg.

Waud was only one of two artists to sketch the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle in the Civil War and the turning point of the conflict. His sketches of Pickett’s Charge, on July 3, 1863, is thought to be the only visual account by an actual eyewitness.

Waud’s illustration of Pickett’s Charge showing Lewis Armistead leading his men, hat on sword. This was the fartherest advance by the rebels during the entire Battle of Gettysburg. Armistead was shot and died a few days later.
Waud’s sketch of Warren, surveying the lay of the land at Little Round Top at Gettysburg, July 1863.

Dramatis Personae: Gettysburg

“History is not was, it is”- William Faulkner

“What we need to remember most of all is that the Civil War is not over until we, today, have done our part in fighting it, as well as understanding what happened when the Civil War generation fought it.” -Barbara Fields.

The Civil War. What a daunting episode in our nation’s history.

It is so daunting that it took me a long time to get around to read about it. And reading about it, takes real time and commitment. For example, Shelby Foote’s account of the war is told across three volumes and over 3,000 pages. The Civil War is the most written about event in American History. The estimate is around 100,000 volumes about out National bloodletting. The President of the Union, Abraham Lincoln, is the most written about historical figure, coming only second to Jesus. About 15,000 books have been written about Honest Abe. Where do you have the time? And where do you even start?

The impetus for me, was my late brother Greg. Greg was an educator of American History and a voracious reader of American nonfiction. One summer we decided to read a book that had been sitting on our book shelves for a while, gathering dust. It was yet another biography of Lincoln. But this one, had been hailed as the latest and greatest history of our 16th, and perhaps our greatest presidents. The book: David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln.

Over the summer we held our unofficial book club over the phone. We discussed Lincoln and his times and the events that shaped his presidency. Greg had to fill me in on many of the details of the Civil War. Now here was a huge void in my understanding of American History. I had avoided delving into the Civil War partly because of it’s overwhelming scope and breath as a subject and also because it seemed to be a blotch on our national character that was uncomfortable to face head on. How could it be that a nation called the “United” States of America be so ununited? (Sounds very contemporary I know!)

I wanted to read more about the Civil War and my brother suggested a very enjoyable read: the narrative and fictionalized historical account of the Battle of Gettysburg: Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels.

After reading the Lincoln biography and Shaarra’s masterpiece (which inspired the film Gettysburg) I asked my brother for a reading recommendation for the best single volume account of the Civil War. I wanted to understand the times and context of the Civil War without taking a lifetime to read about it. Greg’s response was Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson.

I bought Battle Cry of Freedom and like any great or important undertaking, it sat on my bookshelf awaiting the first turn of it’s 909 pages. I thumbed through the pages and looked at the photos but I could not bring myself to take the first step on this long journey of learning.

Then on April 5, 2021, Greg died.

His death was the impetus to finally start reading about our nation’s greatest struggle. I spent the summer reading Battle Cry of Freedom. This masterpiece covers the causes of the Civil War as well as focusing on the people who fought it and it’s battles.

I realized that to really understand the Civil War, you had to visit some of the battlefields. And the the one battlefield that seems to rise above the others is Gettysburg, the battle that became the turning point in the war. (spoiler alert: the North won).

I planned to visit Gettysburg and a few other battlesites in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. And before I take any trip, I do a bit of sketching.

This time I want to sketch the Dramatis personae of the Battle of Gettysburg. Four from the North and four from the South.

By the time of the Civil War, portrait photography was popular and many of the generals, North and South, sat to have their portraits taken. All off my sketches were draw from these portraits.

The Portraits

The North (Left to Right):

Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, head of the Army of the Potomac. Meade became the commander of the Army of the Potomac just three days before the first battle at Gettysburg. Meade’s horse “Old Baldy” was injured during Gettysburg but survived the General to participate in the general’s funeral procession in 1872.

Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds of the First Corps. Reynolds fought in the Mexican War become friends with Winfield Scott Hancock of the North and Lewis Armistead of the South.This Pennsylvanian was killed on the first day of battle on July 1, 1863. He was a friend and had served under General Meade.

Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain of the 20th Maine. He is know as the Fighting Professor and the hero of Little Round Top for his heroic bayonet charge. Chamberlin taught at Bowdoin College where he was not aloud to enlist, but went on a leave of absence and enlisted anyway. He is one of the key figures in Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels. Chamberlain suffered six wounds during the Civil War, eventually dying of them in 1914. He is said to be the final casualty of the Civil War.

Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock of the Second Corps, was fighting in his home state of Pennsylvania. During the fighting in the Peninsula Campaign, he received the nickname, “Hancock, the Superb”. He was wounded on the final day of the Battle while defending Cemetery Ridge against Pickett’s Charge.

The South (left to right):

Gen. Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee was born in Virginia in 1807. In 1829, he graduated from the US Military Academy, second in his class. He married Mary Anne Curtis and he moved into her family estate home in Arlington, Virginia, later to become Arlington National Cemetery, first opened to bury the Civil War dead. In 1861, Lincoln offered Lee the command of the U.S. Army, he refused and on April 20, 1861, resigned his commission and fought for the South. Lee was a brilliant strategist in the Civil War but the Battle of Gettysburg proved to be his Waterloo.

Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, Commander of the First Corps. Nicknamed “Old Pete” Longstreet served in the Mexican War with many of the men he would be fighting against during the Civil War. Longstreet disagreed with Lee’s tactic on the third day at Gettysburg. He was reluctant to send men forward in what became known as “Pickett’s Charge” because he believed it would fail, which was ultimately the case.Longstreet became a critic of Lee after the war.

Maj. Gen. George E Pickett, head of Pickett’s division in the First Corps. Ranked last in his class at West Point, Pickett served in the Mexican War with Longstreet. The flamboyant Pickett lead the charged on the Northern position on Cemetery Ridge loosing almost his entire division in the process. On their retreat from the charge, Pickett encounter Lee and the General asked Pickett to rally his division for defense, to which Pickett replied, “General Lee, I have no division.”

Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead, came from a military family. He was a West Point drop out that learned his trade during the Mexican War. During the last day of Battle of Gettysburg, Armistead led his Brigade, hat on sword, and made the deepest advance on the Northern lines, becoming mortally wounded in the process. The wounded General was misidentified as Longstreet and under a truce flag on July Fourth, a Northern messenger encountered the very much living Longstreet letting him know that the General “would be taken care of”. Old Pete “told the messenger he believed he could take care of himself quite well”.


Mendocino Coast

The Mendocino County Coast is a sketcher’s paradise with many interesting buildings, coastal views, and flora and fauna (who doesn’t love sketching coast redwoods?).

I have sketched many buildings in and around Mendocino and there are infinite subjects to sketch in this area.

In Ft. Bragg I walked out to Glass Beach. The rock formations appealed to me and I did a loose brush pen sketch from my folding sketcher’s chair (featured sketch). Sketching these rocks was recording a moment in time because the sea coast is always in a state of flux. Rocks crumble and reform, arcs collapse and the unrelenting tide shape and sculpt the coastline.

There seemed to be more common ravens in Ft. Bragg the I remember before. These very intelligent and adaptable birds have been expanding their range along the coast. As I was sketching I was watching these large corvids (the world’s largest songbirds) foraging among the rocks and seaweed like a black oystercatcher. I even slipped one in on my sketch.

I headed south to the scenic and historic town of Mendocino. Here a had a building in mind that I wanted to sketch. This building was built in 1901 by Portuguese settlers and as it turns out, it is the largest hall in the town of Mendocino. This is Crown Hall.

Crown Hall is on a side street (Ukiah Street) that parallels Main Street. The hall can be rented out for weddings and other events. The building features a kitchen, a bar, and a stage.

The stage is what really attracted me to doing a sketch of Crown Hall. This was a venue used by a legendary Northern California folksinger, Kate Wolf. She preformed at various locations in Mendocino and the last Kate Wolf recording released, Live in Mendocino, features live recordings from concerts in Mendocino County, including a concert at Crown Hall in 1982.

Kate Wolf was born in San Francisco in January 27, 1942. When Kate was 27, she visited Big Sur and heard locals playing music in their living rooms. So inspired, she moved to Sonoma County and stared writing and performing music in local bars.

Kate’s following grew in the 1980’s and she performed all around the Golden State and was even featured on the music show, “Austin City Limits” and on the radio show “A Prairie Home Companion”. In 1981, Kate released “Closer to You”, which is probably her best album featuring her own compositions. In 1983 she release the live album “Give Yourself to Love”, the title track becoming one of Kate’s most well known songs.

Sadly, Kate Wolf died at the age of 44 on December 10, 1986 after a long battle with leukemia. In her honor, the Kate Wolf Music Festival was held in June of 1996 in Sebastopol. Since 2001 it has been held at Black Oak Ranch in Laytonville, ca. The three or four day music festival traditionally ends with a cover of “Give Yourself to Love”

I included the first verse and chorus of this song to my sketch.


California Western Railroad: The Skunk Train

For my second road trip of the summer, I chose my base camp: Fort Bragg on the Mendocino County Coast. I knew that one adventure I wanted to experience was a ride on the Famous California Western Railroad, also known as the Skunk Train.

The Skunk Train runs from Ft. Bragg to Willits, a train journey of 40 miles. A round trip of seven hours. The former logging railroad crossed 30 bridges and trestles and travels through two long tunnels.

The Skunk at Ft. Bragg. The water tower is for No. 45, a Mikado steam locomotive. Our train (No. 65) was pulled by a former Southern Pacific GP9 diesel built in 1955 by EMD.

The Skunk is a poor reflection of its former self because of the April 11, 2013 partial collapse of the 1,200 foot Tunnel No. 1. The tunnel was built in 1893 and it is in an area known for hill slides. This means that the Skunk Train only runs from Ft. Bragg to Glen Blair Junction, a distance of 3.5 miles. It seems like just when the train gets going, it stops 30 minutes later.

The railroad has also been without an operable steam locomotive. The 2-8-2 No. 45, was built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1924. The locomotive is currently being restored and may be once again under steam in the upcoming year.

The end of the line, for now. Plans are underway to open the line in about a year. In the background is the western portal of collapsed Tunnel No. 1.

It is a pleasant ride on the “Pudding Creek Express”, although “express” is hyperbole of the highest order! I chose to get out and explore the area and then catch the second train back to Ft. Bragg. There are a few hiking trails and I hoped to get in a few sketches before the train returned, so I had time to sketch and paint and had extra time to let the paint dry!

I started by sketching the caved in western portal of Tunnel No. 1. The tracks were covered in dirt and rocks filled the entrance. Vegetation was growing up, almost threatening to cover the portal. A train has not passed through here in almost eight years. A maintenance worker told me that they hoped to have the tunnel open in about a year. I’m not sure they could move a mountain but I’m sure that have the funds and the manpower to clear a tunnel.

Motor car M-100 at Willits, facing west towards Ft. Bragg.

On the following day, on a flight of fancy, I decided to drive to Willits to see the eastern end of the line. From Coastal Ft. Bragg to Willits was about an hour with temperature difference of about 30 degrees! I pulled up to the beautiful redwood station in time to see the eastern Skunk pull into the station. The Willits train is a two hour,16 mile, round trip. This trips travels to the highest point on the line (1,740 feet) and travels past the “”Wolf Tree”, a large coast redwood.

The line at Willits is isolated from the Ft. Bragg side of the railroad because of the collapse of Tunnel No. 1 so what ever motive power and cars are what ever was here, prior to April 11, 2013.

On the Ft. Bragg side of the line sits the Motor car M-300 (sketched in the featured sketch). These gas powered cars where used for passenger service in 1925. These motor cars gave the railroad it’s name, because the locals named the cars “skunks” because, “you can smell ’em before you can see ’em.”

The M-100, which is on a siding in Willits, was built by the Edwards Rail Car Company in 1925. It is still operable and used when ridership is down instead of using a diesel with passenger cars.