A Review of Masterpiece’s “Little Women”

Over Memorial Day weekend I binge-watched the new version of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Though my review was delayed due to history conference coordinating, I’m delighted to share a few thoughts on the new show. I suppose I could critic from the literary perspective, but this is a Civil War blog, so let’s talk about the Civil War and how it’s featured in this production.

Little Women (2018) promotional photo – left to right: Amy, Meg, Jo, Beth

Haven’t seen the show or read the book? Spoilers ahead – now you’ve been warned!

Need the one paragraph cliff-notes version of the story? Mr. March – an innovator who doesn’t make much money – and Mrs. March (Marmee) – a kind, wise, resourceful woman – have four daughters: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Set in the 1860’s and into the early 1870’s, the story follows the girls as they learn how to be “little women” through humorous and serious life experiences and lessons. Laurie – the boy next door – joins in the adventures of life in countryside Massachusetts and falls in and out of love with the girls. Each girl has her own dreams and ambitions, but they will either conform or rebel against 19th Century society’s norms at different times in the story.

Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women in 1868, and it’s loosely based on her own childhood. Alcott served briefly as a nurse during the Civil War and includes hints of the conflict in her famous novel, though focusing almost exclusively on home life and the challenges of growing up, making her story a classic for decades.

In Masterpiece’s adaption was released on public television in the United States in May 2018, is still available on the website with some restrictions, and will be available on DVD soon. Here are a few Civil War related things to watch for in the new three-part series:

Meg March – Little Women (2018) promotional photo

First, the Civil War is featured in this adaption and more prominently than in others I’ve seen. Yes, it does stray from the book in this regard, but I thought it really helped solidify the story’s setting. Instead of Mr. March’s mysterious absence from home, Masterpiece showed his work among the soldiers (presumably as a chaplain), his compassion to suffering soldier boy, his homesickness, and his time in a Union hospital. Showing this, helps to better illustrate some of Mrs. March and the little women’s struggles on the Massachusetts homefront, including limited financial resources.

There are also scenes where Marmee and the girls try to help a German family who’s struggling to survive the winter and illnesses. Taken in historical context, this is significant since the Civil War era was filled with prejudices against German-Americans; the March’s compassion and steadfastness to treat everyone by the Golden Rule stands out. Also significant is Jo’s wish to become a soldier and “follow Father to the field.” Little did she know that some girls did just that during the conflict.

In one scene, though, the Civil War themes are completely mutilated. Amy – the youngest sister – is attempting to cast her foot in plaster, one of her art attempts, while Meg – the oldest – perches on the bed, reading a newspaper. She comments on the Battle of Ball’s Bluff and then worries about Union conscription. It’s out of order since we’ve already seen one Christmas with Father away from home (presumably Christmas 1861) and Union conscription didn’t happen until 1863. Technically speaking, Meg wouldn’t be commenting on Ball’s Bluff like it’s recent news in summer 1862, and she probably wouldn’t be worrying about conscription at that time. Of course, I might be completely mistaken and it really came from an original newspaper that the actress or writing team had consulted.

John Brooke in uniform at the wedding after the war scenes (Little Women, 2018, promotional photo)

My favorite “tie to war” in this adaption of Little Women is when Mr. John Brooke appears in uniform and his service in the Union army! In other versions, he just wanders off to war. Masterpiece gives us the full benefit of the scene with Meg’s expressions when she sees that uniform and considers if she really wants to become engaged to a financially poor soldier boy who might die on a battlefield. (Spoiler: she says yes to his proposal!) And then we see him march down the lane. A compilation of scenes shows John marching, fighting in battle, getting wounded, and coming home – appropriately short for the scope of the film, but still a nice addition to understanding his character and the couple’s relationship.

Overall, I really enjoyed the new adaption and was pleased to see the Civil War take a stronger part in the setting of the story. Sure, there were some things that bothered me with new version, and some parts seemed a little rushed, but the acting was good and the costumes were pretty. They didn’t completely butcher the book and even made a few changes that I enjoyed (I actually liked Laurie in this version and didn’t hate Amy at the end).

Little Women (2018) – PBS promotional photo

From a historically-minded viewpoint, I think it’s important to see this adaption’s more prominent inclusion of the Civil War as a positive innovation to understanding this coming-of-age story. The Civil War opened doors and new experiences for many young women – including some of the March sisters – and it’s significant to use the conflict in the interpretation of Little Women’s setting and in its original author’s experiences.

Have you seen the adaption? What did you think?

Check out the Masterpiece Little Women website for more details, video clips, podcasts, and activities.

One Evening At Gettysburg…

It was one of those evenings when you’d just rather sit in your tent and zone-out. The Union generals had been playing “catch-up on the campaign” ever since the now-fired Joe Hooker had started a belated pursuit of the Confederate army. As for the men in gray, they’d been on the march for weeks now, into Maryland and Pennsylvania, but it just seemed like all their plans weren’t working out.

Sensing that his commanders needed a break, General Lee inquired if there was a pizza parlor nearby, and Henry Heth said he’d heard about a good place in Gettysburg. Lee sent Heth to make reservations.

About that same time, Union General Meade decided to have a team building meeting. John Buford sent word that he’d heard of High Ground Pizza – not too far in the little town of Gettysburg – and offered to hold some tables.

When Henry Heth arrived at High Ground Pizza, he was astonished to find Buford there, already reserving about half the restaurant’s tables. Heth at once expressed his displeasure and then wondered aloud what would happen when the generals from both sides gathered in the room.

They didn’t have to wait long. Reynolds showed up and ordered some [root] beer and “for goodness sakes, hurry up!” and Gordon arrived with his gray mustang. Heth pouted in the corner, making frowny faces at the men in blue until Ewell and Lee arrived and organized some tables across from the Yankee position.

Longstreet, Early, Pickett, and Hood all came together. Longstreet took one look around the restaurant and suggested they could go to Washington for a hamburger and just leave the Yankees alone, but Lee insisted he really wanted pizza. The men in gray looked at the menu for a while. “I just wish General Stuart was here. He’s so particular in what he eats, and I don’t want to order something he doesn’t like,” Lee said, looking over the rim of his glasses absently as though he didn’t see his other friends.

Hancock, Sickles, Meade, Warren and Chamberlain entered. Nobody was quite sure why Chamberlain came; he wasn’t in the general’s star-club yet, but the other Union men just shrugged and assumed he invited himself to the party. They bent over the menus, trying to decide what to order.

Finally, Lee sent Ewell to the ordering counter to ask for four large pepperoni pizzas, if possible. Ewell had started eating healthy ever since he got married and decided it wasn’t possible; he ordered four thin crust vegan pizzas with minimal cheese. Meanwhile, all the Union men decided on carnivorous pizza and sent Sickles to place the order for four pizzas. Sickles glanced behind him, made sure Hancock wasn’t listening, and only ordered only cheese pizza because he was tired of everyone ignoring what he wanted.

The Confederate pizzas arrived first (still before Stuart, who seemed to have gotten lost on the way to the gathering). Everyone glowered when they saw what Ewell had ordered, but about that time Longstreet noticed that the Union men had pizza with yummy, gooey (and totally unhealthy) cheese. Motioning to the others, they quickly got the same idea. Forget caution and healthy dieting! Food stealing!

Now, the Union boys growled at Sickles until Warren sounded the alarm. Chamberlain – from his seat on the left, closest to the food counter – grabbed several pizza boxes and suggested they take the food to-go. The others rallied and headed for the back of Meade’s pick-up (wagon, of course). The Confederates gathered at the door while Sickles was sent back to camp without dinner as punishment for his mischief and lack of obedience.

“Men, should we stay or head back to camp?” Meade asked. After some quick thinking, the men voted to stay…because if they went back to camp all the soldiers would be mad they didn’t get to have pizza too. Now, the generals had tried that at Fredericksburg last year, and it just turned into the biggest disaster ever.

Who wouldn’t fight for PIZZA?

Pickett ran out the door, calling to the gray-clad men to follow. “Rally, brave Virginians! We can take their cheese pizza!” But it took a while to get the others to come with him, and by that time, the cheese pizza stealing opportunity vanished. The Union men shook hands, smiled at everyone (except the Confederates) and headed back to camp, thankful for an opportunity to relax and enjoy some good food.

Inside the restaurant, Stuart arrived in time to poke at the cold veggie pizza while Lee scolded him for being late. The men in gray decided to head to Williamsport Brewery on Potomac Street, leaving Lee to pay the price of the pizza with his Lost Cause Rewards Card (which would actually be billed to Longstreet).

April Fools From Emerging Civil War!

Stephen Crane’s “Veteran”

Crane-displayMany Civil War buffs have read Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, lauded as one of the best war novels of all time, of any war. The book “stands by itself in nineteenth-century English and American war fiction,” literary scholar Eric Solomon once said. “Indeed, it  is still the masterwork in English among the abundance of war novels that two world conflicts and dozens of smaller wars have produced.” First published in October of 1895, the book reads as if written by a veteran, but Crane wasn’t even born until 1871. (If you haven’t read it, go out and read it as soon as possible!)

What many Red Badge fans don’t know is that Crane wrote a short sequel to the novel, a short story called “The Veteran,” which appeared in the August 1896 issue of McClure’s Magazine. You can read the short story online for free

While Crane never outright said the short story was a follow-up to Red Badge, the main character in each work is named “Henry Fleming.” And in the short story, Fleming, now an old man, tells his grandson about getting shot at during battle and running away. “That was at Chancellorsville,” Fleming tells the boy.

This is another circumstantial link between the two stories. Nowhere in Red Badge does Crane ever identify the battle in the novel as being Chancellorsville, although a close reading of the text pretty clearly identifies it as such for anyone who knows the battle well. (The subject for another post sometime, for sure, but here’s a good piece by NPR that goes into more depth.) A display at the Chancellorsville battlefield visitor center highlights the connection (see photos above and below).


I don’t want to give away the end of “The Veteran,” but it’s a perfect if bittersweet vindication of Fleming’s flight on the battlefield all those years earlier. I encourage you to take the time to read it.

A Backstage Tour of the Atlanta Cyclorama (part four)

Gordon Jones hardhat

Dr. Gordon Jones

(part four of four)

We’ve been touring this week the new Atlanta cyclorama building at the Atlanta History Center—a state-of-the-art complex built specifically to showcase The Battle of Atlanta, a painting that depicts the July 22, 1864, Confederate breakthrough during the battle of Atlanta and the Federal counterattack to stem the tide. Our guide has been Dr. Gordon Jones, senior military historian and curator for the museum.

At 42 feet high and 358 feet long, the Atlanta cyclorama is the largest in the country—although, arguably, not the most famous. That distinction would probably go to the Gettysburg cyclorama, which was installed in a custom-made home of its own in 2008.

CHRIS MACKOWSKI: Is there a friendly rivalry with Gettysburg or do you guys work with them to learn from them? 

GORDON JONES: It’s basically that. They played a huge role in getting this done. Two things kind of came together. One: in Grant Park, attendance was declining. There was no money left for maintenance. It was a hand-to-mouth operation. So as attendance declined, there was nothing to maintain the painting, and it was starting to need some help. It had been thirty-five years since its last restoration. And at the same time, in the mid-2000s, Gettysburg was doing their cyclorama restoration. I was up there as part of the Museum Advisory Committee, and I got to see this going on.

So we started thinking about this here in Atlanta and, right around the time they finished theirs, our then-director started seriously thinking about it, and we went to our architect and we said, “Hey, man, can you do a little scratch drawing and see if we can fit this thing on our property somewhere?” And one thing led to another.

And then, the mayor, realizing the painting was headed in a downward spiral, called for an advisory committee and a task force to study what to do with it, partly at the urging of some of us. This was one of the recommended places. Here, or taking it downtown—it was whoever had the money. So we had a set of donors that came out of the woodwork that we had never met before and that we didn’t know. They read about it in the newspaper and said, “We’d like to make a legacy gift. We really want to save the Cyclorama. Here, have ten million dollars.” So with that, we were able to leverage the rest of the money and, at that point, it was just a matter of lining up the deal.

The Atlanta Zoo was able to take up the old building at Grant Park, and we were able to refurbish the painting so that it’s not left as derelict. The 1921 building is saved, the painting is saved, and we did it all with private money.

The city has leased this and [the locomotive] the Texas to us for seventy-five years, so in essence, it’s a win-win for everybody involved. We saved the building, we saved the painting, we saved the locomotive. It’s in a viable place now, it’s supported by an endowment, and it’s no longer hand-to-mouth. If nobody ever comes in to this painting as a paying customer ever again, it won’t matter because we have the money to maintain it anyway.

C.M.: So how much did the building cost?

G.J.: We’re not finished with that yet, but we’re going to say we have approximately a thirty-million dollar project, ten million of which is an endowment.

C.M.: What have I not asked about this project yet that I should know? I assume you get a lot of interest in people asking when is this going to be ready and that type of stuff.

G.J.: I think the main thing I’m trying to get across to people is just how many stories this thing can tell. It is the battle of Atlanta, but it’s more than that. It’s all about the memory of the Civil War, and the science of these things, and the artists of these things, and the Germans—the guys who came over here and made it big.

George Peter, the horse painter, stays over here and becomes sort of famous in his own right. He ends up doing all the background murals in the Natural History Museum in Milwaukee. And some of these other guys turn out to be Western artists, famous Wisconsin artists, at least. A lot of times they didn’t want to highlight the fact that they came over here to paint panoramas because that was like a low art form since it was popular.

But there are so many good stories, and I think the problem with this painting is that it has been associated too much with the battle of Atlanta and therefore with Confederacy, and in this town, it was a political football for a while and it doesn’t need to be.

A Backstage Tour of the Atlanta Cyclorama (part three)

Gordon Jones and Jackson Mackowski

Gordon Jones (r) and Jackson Mackowski (l)

(part three of four)

We continue today our behind-the-scenes tour of the Atlanta cyclorama at the Atlanta History Center’s Lloyd and Mary Ann Whitaker Cyclorama Building. Our guide is Dr. Gordon Jones, chief military historian and curator for the museum. In yesterday’s segment, he explained how the restoration of the painting got underway.

“The next step is going to be the part that everybody was thinking we’re doing now, which is the whole cleaning and painting,” he said. “We’ve spent about two years on this project, and that is going to be the last thing we do.”

To get to that point has required tons—literally—of work, including removing the cyclorama from its former home in Grant Park. That also meant “getting all the artifacts out, getting the diorama out, getting the diorama figures out.” 

GORDON JONES: Did you see the painting when it was over there?


G.J.: Okay, the little plaster figures from the 1930’s—again Wilbur Kurtz’s [restoration artist from the 1930s]—all of those had to be taken out and crated. And then we had to cut up the surface of the diorama. In the 80s, they had to replace the dirt with fiberglass, which, from a health standpoint, is just as bad. So we had to get rid of all that.

So, just to get to the point where we can raise a scaffold on the face of this painting and get to the top rail, to actually physically measure it—we knew approximately what it was, and we were building the building to allow for that—but to actually get a proper measurement, we couldn’t do it until about February of 2016. And we had started this project in July of 2015.

And then, it took another year after that to attach the strip-lining to the bottom and the top, to have the spools made, and to have it scrolled onto two spools, lifted and craned out of the top of the building through two holes, and craned into this building. That was in February of 2017. So only now are you getting to the point of doing the restoration.

C.M.: Just the sheer size of it is a logistical issue.

G.J.: Hence the reason that the cyclorama fad was so short-lived. [They were popular in the 1880s.] This was virtual reality of its time, but imagine the overhead. You had to build these buildings that all had to be alike, all the same size, so you could interchange the paintings from buildings, But the expense—holy crap. You’re spending six- or eight-thousand dollars on the building. By some accounts, this painting was forty-thousand dollars to make. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but you have to have an awful lot of ticket sales. And after a while, the market is saturated and everyone’s tired of it. They’re ready to see other stuff.

So the fact that this one survives at all is really due to the fact that it was enshrined in Atlanta. It ended up in Atlanta, and the city decided to make it an icon of its history—an icon of the Confederate Lost Cause. That’s why it survived. Whether we like that or not, that’s why it survived. Now, we have to interpret it more fully to show all these different nuances.

C.M.: What do you think some of the coolest parts of the painting are?

G.J.: Right here. The breakthrough at the Troup Hurt house, and ever here there’s “Blackjack” Logan and then behind him, Captain Degress, racing with his batteries, to push forward the counter-attack. It’s that ‘cusp moment’ when everything’s in the balance. To me, part of the brilliance of this painting is that the artist chose that cusp moment, because if you want a heroic victory, then you don’t go for the 42-to-nothing ballgame, you go for the one that ends at the last minute with the extra point—so this is what he did.

Also, I think the artistry on this stuff is fantastic if you look, particularly at the horses. Here they’re slaughtering the battery horses, or the battery horses have been slaughtered to prevent the Confederates from carrying them off, but they’ve also chosen to show that process continuing. There were two horse painters, but I think this is by George Peter. Well, there were really about twenty different artists, but about ten were the top dogs; George Peter was one of them. He’s chosen to put these horses in their moment of agony, so it looks really disheartening to see that, and what he did was he went down to the glue factory and went to the slaughterhouse and he sketched the horses as they were being killed.

So you see this brilliantly rendered stuff and if you look over here—I love that explosion because it looks so 3-D coming at you.

Here, you see this captain on his horse. He’s looking backwards; you see the expression on him and you see the two horses there—wonderfully rendered horses. But then, look at Captain Jonas’s horse and—then this is August Mercy and, look, his horse—and they’re flat, they’re crap. Those are ones that have been retouched in 1898, 1909, 1922, and 1936. It was retouched because it suffered damage, particularly in the old building, before it came to Grant Park. So, you can tell what’s not done by the original artists.

So the question is then what do you do with that in terms of restoration. That’s an aesthetic choice. You want to be honest to the painting, but it’s also an aesthetic thing, where you want to honor the original artist—so that’s one of the decisions to make.

Sherman is up there: you can see him outlined in smoke. This is supposed to be Manning Force’s ambulance going up to headquarters. McPherson’s body is supposed to be in that ambulance right there that you can see in the trees.

And then you come back to the back of the painting, this is the Georgia railroad and Stone Mountain. You can see the Georgia railroad continuing straight over there, and that’s Atlanta. You’re right on the railroad cut. And some debate over how close the Troup Hurt house was to the railroad, and everybody says that this is awfully close. Well, it was, and one of the reasons it’s close is because we’re missing about four feet of painting right there! [See part two of the series for an explanation.] So that would be part of it, but it’s not all—only part of it.

And then you can see the Union forces coming up, and you can see the Confederate prisoners being taken back. That was a point of controversy when the painting came down south. Those soldiers were repainted as fleeing Yankees, because why would southern audiences want to see their compatriots being towed off as prisoners? Kurtz, to his credit, put them back. Now I know that’s the case with these guys down by the tree, but I don’t know if that’s the case with some of the others, where you see other sets of prisoners being led off. There are three sets of prisoners.

C.M.: I notice there’s a single bird over here.

G.J.: Ah, yes. Old Abe, the war eagle—the mascot of the 8th Wisconsin regiment. The 8th Wisconsin was not only not here, but Old Abe was not allowed to be removed from his perch, lest he should fly away—but no matter because the 8th Wisconsin was very famous and Old Abe was very famous in Wisconsin. When this painting was made, Old Abe had just died. I think he died in ’81. He was stuffed and preserved in the State House, so he was kind of the symbol of Wisconsin. So, here these German guys new to Wisconsin, painting this painting, decided to put a little nod to the old hometown, so they put Old Abe up there.

Another reason this is a great American treasure, the symbol of the 101st Airborne Division is an eagle. That’s Old Abe because those guys were formed up there, so in the first World War, when they were looking for a symbol for their patch—Wisconsin—their symbol is an eagle.

CM: I see the post-it notes on the canvas. Is that for aligning lights as you guys work?

GJ: That’s actually for the horizon, because the horizon eye needs to be at about the human eyeball level in order for the illusion to be right for you. So when the painting is finally attached to the upper rail, it’ll be up about two inches. Now all the stuff above you [he points to the support structures and scaffolding that hold the lights and the painting], that’ll be covered up with a cloth canopy so it’ll give the appearance that there’s nothing there but sky, and then of course the floor will be a diorama, so you won’t be able to see that either.

This platform we’re on will be outfitted to have a 19th century feel to it: faux-wood floors, iron posts, and covering up as much as we can to give the feel—and everyone knows it’s a modern space, but to give the feel of that century. You will also be able to go underneath the platform, and there will be exhibits down there too, and that’s different than Gettysburg. They couldn’t do it at the Gettysburg building. We figured out we could do it here, so why not have a little bit more space?


“Is there a friendly rivalry with Gettysburg?” I ask Gordon in tomorrow’s conclusion. His answer may surprise you.

A Backstage Tour of the Atlanta Cyclorama (part two)

Atlanta Cyclorama observation deck(part two of four)

Back in June, I had the privilege to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the new cyclorama facility at the Atlanta History Center. This week, I’m glad to finally share my adventure with you.

In yesterday’s segment, the museum’s senior military historian and curator, Dr. Gordon Jones, brought me inside the center of the exhibition room, with the painting hanging on full display. It was absolutely breathtaking to stand in the middle of this immense work of art. 

“The lighting package, we just fired it up last week,” Gordon told me. “It makes a huge difference on how the painting looks, and you can not only see the artistry, but you can also see the mistakes.” We laughed.

Gordon led us across the room to the skeleton of an observation deck that stood in the middle of the room. We climbed the stairs to the platform for a good look at the painting as he talked about it. With his permission, I recorded Gordon’s tour—which I’ve lightly edited for clarity—and my son, Jackson, started grabbing pictures. I’ll let Gordon do the talking:

Chalk marks on the canvas help guide the conservationists in their restoration.

GORDON JONES: Where we are now with this project is our conservation team, German and American, are now working on the painting. We hired a German team because that’s where the experience was with moving these things. There’s not the experience over here. Even at Gettysburg, they had to hire someone from Poland to help them out because that’s where the experience was.

So what the conservationists have been doing up to this point, really, is a lot more engineering than anything else, but right now they’re adding to the sky. You can see we have lost, over the years before it ever came to Grant Park, about seven feet of sky, which was incrementally cut off every time the painting moved. It was moved several times.

Also, you had losses at the bottom of the painting for various reasons, but one big reason was because, in that building in Grant Park, there was actually no floor. You actually just had a dirt floor, so the painting went into the floor and there was dirt piled up on it to look like the dioramas that were along the base of painting. That resulted in a lot of deterioration and mold, so some of this was cut off.

Then, we have a section that was actually cut as an escape hatch in the 1930’s. There’s supposed to be a wagon that goes over that. You can see the wheel there.

But the more significant thing that you can see over here: this is the high point of the painting, the breakthrough and the trooper pass. That’s the Confederate victory and then right next to it, you see the Union victory. So it depends on whether you like your glass half full or half empty. “Well I like the attack.” “Well I like the counter attack.” But when the painting was being put into the building in 1921, it was cut at this seam. They ended up not measuring the building properly. Realizing that the painting was a little bit too big, they said, “Why don’t we just cut some out.” So that part was missing.

So Wilbur Kurtz, when he did his restoration in the 30’s—this was about the same time he was working on the Texas [the museum’s other centerpiece exhibit, the steam engine involved in the Great Locomotive Chase]—he came in and did some doctoring and he added some figures right here because there were not enough Confederate defenders, because the Confederate defenders were cut out. And I get it. So we wanted to leave those figures, and you can see them, these guys are up here. They’re shooting, and those are Wilbur Kurtz’s figures. So we wanted to leave those because, to me, that’s part of the story of the painting.

So we’re going to go ahead and do the restoration. We have the 1886 photograph, so we know what this actually should look like.

There’s also a loss on the other side, where we came in, which was the entrance tunnel in the main seam [on almost the exact opposite side of the painting]. That’s where the painting was always cut and it was always scrolled when it was moved, which we did when it came here. And so incrementally, it lost some over here, and there’s also some loss over there, as well, and that’s also being put back in.

CHRIS MACKOWSKI: So why did they choose to cut out a section right here at the ultimate scene, as opposed to maybe just trimming out something else?

G.J.: See, up until just about May [2017], I thought that’s exactly what it was and was telling everybody that’s what it was: our four feet that we’re missing is over there. Because when I saw that, I assumed that they were smart enough, they cut it at the main seam. But our conservationist team looked at it and said, “I don’t think so. Really what you’re seeing over there is a lot of overpaint. The big loss occurs right here.” [“Over there” is near the seam where we entered; “right here” is the climactic scene altered by Kurtz.]

And I went back and looked at a photograph I had from the newspaper, but it was microfilm, so it’s black. So I start playing with the contrast. I finally got the contrast right, and I finally figured out that I could actually see one of the figures way over here, and I said, “That’s that figure. That’s on the other side of the painting. By God, they did cut it right here!” Now why they did that, I don’t know. By that point—this is 1921—there’s nobody around that knows these things anymore. The artists are all gone. Nobody knows anything. The contractor, he’s the lowest bidder for the city—quite literally, he’s the lowest bidder. He says, “I’ll just move the painting.”

C.M.: And the painting had been on the road for quite a while before it finally came to Atlanta, wasn’t it?

G.J.: It was in Minneapolis, Indianapolis, went bankrupt, came to Chattanooga, and then came to Atlanta. There was a duplicate that was displayed in Detroit and in Baltimore. The duplicate is lost. Most of the other ones are lost. There were probably forty or fifty of these paintings during the heyday. There were crucifixion scenes, there were battle scenes, there’s a Chicago fire, there’s a Bunker Hill, there’s a Custer’s last stand where he was shot, there was Vicksburg, second Manassas, the Monitor and the Merrimack, Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga—there are actually four copies by two different artists of that one—and then by far the most popular, there’s Gettysburg.

For Gettysburg, there were at least four “original” copies by Paul Philippoteaux, and then probably five or ten others that were knockoffs that were made and circulating, so there’s probably as many Gettysburgs as there are of all the others combined.

My theory is that the Eastern Theater guys had their Gettysburg. It was their great shining moment where open-field combat turned the tide. That was their big Civil War monument in paint, so there was a lot of interest in that in the Northeast, and three of the four Gettysburg paintings premier in Eastern cities. In the Midwest, most of the guys are Western theater guys, so they want to see something they were in, so therefore you get Shiloh, Vicksburg, Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga, and Atlanta. Those are the four great Union victories in the West, and each one of them got a painting, and in two of the four, they got multiple copies. These ones premier in Chicago, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, they play out west. So my theory is that there is no single Western equivalent to Gettysburg, but there are these other battles and they all got paintings.

Now the anomaly is Second Manassas. How’d that happen—that’s a Confederate victory? That’s displayed in Washington, D.C., and as far as I know, there’s only one copy, and I don’t know where else it went besides Washington. It did have Lee and Jackson and it did have some prominence to the Confederate officers in there. My thought is that Washington is trying to attract from both areas.

Then you have this Monitor and the Merrimack thing, and it’s definitely a one-off. It is a kind of Northern perspective because what you see is the battle is going on out there in the river and then, on the shoreline, you see the Federal officers watching it, so you see Sumner, and I think you can count that one as being from a Northern perspective. So really, all but one are painted from a Northern perspective, because that’s where the audiences are, that’s where the big cities are.

And when Atkinson, the promoter, brought this one to Chattanooga and Atlanta, the fad was over in the North, so he brought it down here and he’s taken a chance. It’s kinda like movie theaters in the 30’s. He’s taking a chance by selling it down here because there aren’t as many people. Furthermore, they’re going to be hostile towards a Union victory, so he’s got to be really careful about how he advertises it. That’s why he advertises it as a Confederate victory, but his operation went bust for the same reason it did in the North, only it didn’t take as long. Up there, they could play for two years before they went bankrupt, but down here it was nine months.

Anyway, that’s my theory, whether that’s true or not.


Tomorrow, as our tour continues, Gordon will talk about about the painting’s history in the city, and he’ll point out some of his favorite details in the painting itself.