One of the largest paintings in the world, the “Battle of Gettysburg,” with an estimated value of $6.5 million, has been donated to the N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center.
The donation completes a requirement handed down two years ago by the N.C. General Assembly, which promised a $5 million appropriation to the Center if it could raise $2.5 million in new donations by the end of 2019.
The donation, which more than met the state’s requirement, closed Friday, May 31. It brings amount raised for the Center to more than $30 million, with $5 million from the State of North Carolina and $7.5 million each raised from the City of Fayetteville and Cumberland County, respectively.
While certainly welcome as a donation, given that it fits with the Center’s mission of telling stories of North Carolinians and given its value, there are no plans to restore it or put it on display.
“Our first – and only – priority is to successfully complete our plans to build a state-of-the-art history center and digital educational facility at Arsenal Park in Fayetteville,” said Mac Healy, president of the board of directors for the Center’s foundation.
For now, the painting, at 22 feet high, 376 feet long and weighing six tons, will be put into storage in a climate-controlled secure facility.
The painting, which is similar to a copy that is on display at the Gettysburg Museum and Visitors Center at the Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, depicts Pickett’s Charge – the final chapter of the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
More than 12,500 Confederate soldiers in nine infantry brigades charged the Union Army out in the open, coming under heavy Union artillery and rifle fire. It is known that 6,214 troops from North Carolina – the highest number of any state in the South – were killed, wounded or missing at the Battle of Gettysburg.
The decisive defeat ended Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s campaign in Pennsylvania and was seen by many as the war’s turning point, foreshadowing the Confederate Army’s surrenders at Appomattox and Bennett Place, near Durham.
Why a battle in Pennsylvania is a N.C. story
Gettysburg represented one part of the watershed year of 1863 in the Civil War for North Carolinians, both on the battlefield and back home.
Joseph T. Glatthaar, Ph.D., a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializes in the Civil War and American military history. He wrote the book Soldiering in The Army of Northern Virginia: A Statistical Portrait of The Troops Who Served Under Robert E. Lee. Glatthaar pointed out that second only to Virginia, North Carolina sent the most troops to General Lee’s army that spring and summer of 1863.
At Gettysburg, North Carolinians accounted for 46.4 percent of those killed, wounded or captured, and those killed in action numbered 1,782 more soldiers than the next highest state, a difference that constituted more losses than eight other states in the entire battle.
Interestingly, before Gettysburg, there was Chancellorsville, which saw nearly three in ten North Carolinians killed, wounded or captured, the highest percentage of any state. After Gettysburg, at the Battle of Bristoe Station, nearly all of the casualties in Lee’s army were from North Carolina, which amounted to more than 10 percent of all of the North Carolina troops in the Army.
Glatthaar writes: “While it is difficult to determine with precision, a reasonable calculation over a five and a half month period, from late April to mid-October 1863, indicates seven of every ten North Carolinians who served in the Army of Northern Virginia were casualties. The impact of those losses in the most successful and visible Confederate field command on the North Carolina home front was devastating and coincided precisely with the rising disaffection in the state.”
On the home front
At the same time North Carolina faced devastating losses on the battlefields in Virginia, the largest and most aggressive peace movement in the Confederacy – the Peace Party – was gathering steam back home, according to the late Civil War historian William T. Auman.
Between July and September 1863, about 100 political rallies were held across North Carolina to protest Confederate rule and advocate for an end to the fighting. Raleigh newspaperman William W. Holden, who edited the North Carolina Standard, led the fight, printing accounts of its meetings and supporting it editorially.
The peace movement, wrote Auman, “emboldened deserters, draft dodgers and militant Unionists, hundreds of whom organized into bands in the Central Piedmont in the summer of 1863. By August, these armed bands roamed the central counties at will, defying both state and national authorities.”
A brigade of Confederate troops commanded by Brig. Gen. Robert F. Hoke arrived in High Point in September 1863. Along with hundreds of troops from the Home Guard and militia groups activated by Gov. Zebulon B. Vance, the soldiers undertook a massive five-month-long campaign to capture deserters and draft dodgers and force them into the ranks. The campaign covered a wide swath of North Carolina from Wilkes County to Chatham County.
Historians say that the events of 1863, triggered in large part by the battles in Virginia, have had an effect on North Carolina to this day, which has given rise to stories handed down through the generations, stories that are now being collected by the N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center.
“What happened when the son, or the father, or the husband or the brother, didn’t come home?” asked Healy. “What happened to the farm or the business? What happened to the town? How did it affect our families, our economy?”
The cyclorama in history
The Gettysburg cyclorama has its origins with French painter Paul Philippoteaux, who is best known for his work on the first Gettysburg cyclorama and on subsequent copies.
The story begins with a wealthy American clothier, Charles Willoughby, who commissioned the painter to paint the original Gettysburg cyclorama. Working with a team of up to 20 other artists, the cyclorama was unveiled in Chicago in December 1883, in a specially built cyclorama building.
The painting was a smash hit, so successful that Willoughby commissioned the artist to paint one for Boston, which he sold to a company there. Two other cities – Philadelphia and New York – had their own copies, which have been lost, destroyed or cut up into canvases of more manageable size.
Art appraisers say that there were some differences in the different versions, because veterans who were actually at Gettysburg during the battle said that in early versions, certain buildings weren’t where Philippoteaux painted them, so he made changes.
The painting donated to the Center is the last known copy outside of Gettysburg to exist. It is not one of the four original cycloramas – Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and New York – but it is significant that appraisers found it was clearly executed from the original Philippoteaux drawings.
Additionally, some of the same team of artists who painted the first four original cycloramas worked on parts of the Center’s painting, because of the level of detail seen in the horses that were depicted. Based on the content revisions and other factors, the appraisers estimate that it was produced in about 1905.
More notably, the appraisers found that it is in better condition, unrestored, than the Boston version was before it was restored and used as the centerpiece at the Gettysburg museum.
A worthwhile donation
The painting that was donated to the N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center was owned by Emmett McConnell, a showman who showed cycloramas all over the world, who sold it to Winston-Salem art collector Joe King.
Published reports indicate that the painting was given its only showing in North Carolina, at a college football field, in 1965. The painting changed hands once more after King’s death and Billy Ray Powell of Fuquay-Varina and two other collectors purchased it in 2007.
Winslow and Mary Lynn Bryan, vice president of the Center’s board, were among a delegation from Fayetteville that visited and viewed the painting four years ago on the floor of a tobacco warehouse. It wasn’t until recently that the Center was approached with an offer to donate the painting.
“It’s a good asset for us to have,” said Winslow. “But for now, that’s what it is and that’s all it is – an asset. Job one for us is getting the N.C. History & Reconstruction Center built as planned and promised.”
Within its fundraising, the Center has always accepted items of value, including cash or credit card, stock, real estate or an artifact or other in-kind gift. In the case of the Gettysburg Cyclorama, negotiations between the Center and the owners resulted in the owners donating the painting at its highest and best use appraised value of $6.5 million, while retaining $250,000. The value of the donation to the Center is thus $6.25 million.
The painting, given its rarity, appraised value, and that it’s Civil War-related, makes it an artifact that’s appropriate for the Center to accept, Winslow said.
Decisions on the future of the Gettysburg Cyclorama, including its restoration, possible exhibition or sale to an investor, will be a decision for the future. Internal Revenue Service guidelines covering such donations to a non-profit require the Center to keep the painting for at least three years before selling it to a third party, such as a museum or collector.
“What we must do now is be good stewards over the Cyclorama, as we have been good stewards over all of the contributions that we’ve been fortunate enough to receive,” said Winslow. “But our priority must be to keep the promises that we have made, build the center and give the state of North Carolina an educational institution that will help us understand who we are as North Carolinians and where we came from, so that we can move forward into the future and build a more perfect union.”