Sunday, April 2, 2017

March Thaw (Breakheart Reservation)
9 x 12 pastel Uart 400 grit 8 ply board

Everybody looks to the coming of Spring after a long, harsh Winter. Here in New England the colors of Winter start to melt into the upcoming season and the rejuvenation of the landscape.  

Having grown up in Saugus, where Breakheart is located, I have walked here, run here and enjoyed its peaceful vistas for years. My wife and I used to walk here often as well when she was battling cancer, she has since passed away, but her memory is in every step.  Likewise, since my recent back surgery limits my activity to only walking, I have been revisiting this special place located in my hometown.

It is said, that Union soldiers training in the area before heading south found the place so desolate and lonely, that it would “break your heart”. Years later during the Great Depression, the State of Massachusetts would acquire this area as a camp for the Civilian Conservation Corps. Today it consists of 640 acres, is open year round and has hiking trails and views of Boston, central Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Obstinate Determination 8 x 10 Pastel on 8 ply 400 grit Uart board

In war, if you can get upon your opponents flank, you could do some serious damage to that enemy. You could create great chaos as you brought your guns to bear down their entire line also known as enfilade. Officers feared it, for not only the physical damage to their troops, but the psychological as well. In attempts to prevent this, armies would often place their flank on a geographical feature, such as a river, or hills to protect the end of their line and eliminate the risk of being taken in such a demoralizing and destructive manner.

In August in 1862, on a late afternoon of the 28th, Lt. General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson would turn to his command staff and state. “Bring out your men, gentlemen.” Jackson had been watching a column of Union troops, plodding along in the late summer heat on the dusty road to his front. The heat and long march had taken a toll on the troops in blue as their marching was somewhat ragged and Jackson sensed they ripe for the picking. Plus, he was on their flank.

To protect themselves, Confederate troops in butternut and gray would place their right flank on this area of wood and water as they filtered out in a line of battle from the safety of the shadows. They opened fire on the tired Federals, but to their surprise the expected chaos and confusion they had seen Federal soldiers in previous battles did not materialize. The Union troops this day were veterans and while surprised, panic was not in their vocabulary.

Under the command of Philadelphia born, but North Carolina raised John Gibbon, the troops this day were what was in the day, Western troops comprised of the 2nd, 6th and 7th Wisconsin along with the 19th Indiana, also known as the “Black Hats” or later known as the “Iron Brigade”. They were fighters and were primed to prove it.

The two sides marched toward each other until within roughly 100 yards the 2nd Wisconsin unleashed a devastating volley that staggered the Confederates to their front. After this initial blast, the two sides would halt and stand toe to toe, with many of the soldiers in both armies falling where they stood.  As the sun dropped and the fighting diminished in the late summer’s eve, where previously muzzle flashes illuminated the land, now lanterns flickered on blood stained grass, searching the field for wounded that might yet be saved.

Though the battle produced not much more than sadness for families who would never see their sons, fathers, brothers, again, in some ways the staunch fighting by the soldiers from the Army of the Potomac served noticed that things were slowly changing in the blue clad infantry. Under solid leaders they would not easily be intimidated. Confirmed by the reactions of Confederate troops and especially Jackson who were not accustomed to such stubborn resistance, prompting General “Stonewall” Jackson to later remark that these Yankees fought with an “obstinate determination”.
Spotsylvania Sentinel 5 x 7 pastel on Uart 400 grit 8 ply board

On May 10, 1864, at approximately 6:30 PM, Union troops under the command of Colonel Emory Upton would burst through the woods in the distance in an attempt to breach the Confederate earthworks approximately 200 yards away. Unlike most assaults of the time, instead of forming his troops in a line, and formed them in a tightly compacted column, all with fixed bayonets and only the first three ranks loaded to fire their muskets. The idea was to act like a battering ram and to overwhelm the soldiers in gray.

Upton’s troops covered the 200 yards in a matter of seconds. The initial line of soldiers were cut down by the Georgians defending the Confederate trenches, but they were soon overwhelmed by the mass of blue who cut through their line like a hot knife through butter. Onward came the blue wave toward the CSA second line. Here they met resistance from the reinforcements deployed by Lee to break the Union assault. The Union troops held, but Upton, realizing no reinforcements were coming to his aid, slowly pulled back to his own lines.

Upton’s plan was only to penetrate the Confederate entrenchments and to that end, it would be considered a success. General Grant, would take that success two days later and send the entire second Corps under Winfield Hancock to assault the same general area in a similar fashion. The Muleshoe would become synonymous with the term the horrors of war, as American fathers, sons, brothers and young men would commit untold amounts of carnage upon each other not before seen in this already far too bloody conflict.

The Vision Place of Souls 18 x 24 on Wallis pastel paper

Along this wall to the trees in the distance would crash what would become known as the “High Tide” of the Confederacy. Never again would the Army of Northern Virginia make a serious foray onto Northern soil as they did in July 1863.

In 1889, young men, aged by time, would return to this field and many like it, to remember their lost youth. They would come here and elsewhere to remember their family and friends, neighbors, who would never leave these fields. But they would come here, not just for the past but also for the future. For people of today, so they too might think of those young men, and just what they sacrificed, because what they sacrificed are the footprints of our nation today.

This is no more evident than these words, uttered by Joshua L. Chamberlain in October 1889, when he would say: “In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls…generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”