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Appomattox Court House
April 12, 1865
Limited Edition Print
Image Size: 17" x 34"
Overall Size: 23" x 39"
1150 Limited Edition Numbered and Signed
100 Artist Proofs Numbered and Signed
200 Canvas Edition Numbered and Signed, Overall Size 19" x 39"
They faced each other in two long straight lines - just as they had so many times before on so many bloody fields of fire. This time was different. Three days earlier, General Robert E. Lee had surrendered the skeletal remnants of his hard-fighting Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant in farmer Wilmer McLean's parlor. Now it was time for the Sons of the South to lay down their arms and give up their bloodied battle flags. As enemies, these men in blue and gray had faced each other at Petersburg and Cold Harbor, at Gettysburg and Chancellorsville, at Fredericksburg and Antietam, at Second Manassas and Malvern Hill. Now they again stood in great ranks opposite each other - one now the victor, the other now the vanquished.
Placed in command of receiving the Southern surrender was Brigadier General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a Northern war hero who bore four battle wounds inflicted by these men in gray and butternut now assembled before him. Absent in Chamberlain, however, was any animosity toward these former foes; present instead was a sense of respect for fellow countrymen who had given their all in the grip of war.
At Chamberlain's order, there was no jeering. No beating of drums, no chorus of cheers nor other unseemly celebration in the face of a fallen foe. "Before us in proud humiliation," Chamberlain would later recall, "stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond. Was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?"
At Chamberlain's command, the Northern troops receiving the surrender shifted their weapons to "carry arms" - a soldier's salute, delivered in respect to the defeated Southerners standing before them. Confederate General John B. Gordon, immediately recognized this remarkable, generous gesture offered by fellow Americans - and responded with a like salute. Honor answering honor. Then it was over. And a new day had begun - built on this salute of honor at Appomattox. Former foes both North and South - in mutual respect and mutual toleration - now faced the future together. As Americans all.
Mort Künstler's Comments
I have not painted an Appomattox scene for almost ten years. The last one I painted, We Still Love You, General Lee, showed Lee riding back through his tearful troops following the surrender on April 9, 1865. It was a very moving painting to me, and I always wanted to paint another Appomattox scene. When I decided to do this work, I knew I did not want to paint Lee and Grant inside the McLean house. The late Tom Lovell, a dear friend of mine and a master artist, had already painted that scene to perfection.
I thought about the days that followed the April 9th surrender, and I realized that the formal surrender of arms, which occurred three days later, was equally dramatic and moving. Dr. James I. Robertson, Jr. - the Alumni Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech - agreed to meet me at Appomattox. There, we studied the field, and discussed the events of those crucial April days with Joe Williams, the curator and chief of the Division of Museum Services at Appomattox Court House, and Ron Wilson, who is the Appomattox historian emeritus. I would like to thank Dr. Robertson, Joe Williams and Ron Wilson for their expertise on this subject. My thanks also go to Tom Desjardin, an expert on Joshua Chamberlain, Colonel Keith Gibson of the VMI Museum, and Michael J. McAfee, the curator of history at West Point Museum.
Brigadier General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain led the Northern troops in a salute to their honorable enemies, who were now former foes. It was a gracious gesture that helped establish the spirit of reconciliation that reunited the North and the South as one nation.
I painted the Regimental colors of the 32nd Massachusetts, the regiment that was positioned at the far right of the Union lines with Chamberlain. Placing Chamberlain's old brigade flag to the right surrounds him with flags and causes the eye to move directly to him. The brigade flag, of the 5th Corps, 1st Division, 3rd Brigade is described by Chamberlain in a letter to his sister on April 15, 1865. The Confederate soldier folding the flag is placed in the exact center of the painting creating, between him and Chamberlain, a solid center of interest. Chamberlain describes the scene.
As each successive division masks our own, it halts, the men face inward towards us across the road, twelve feet away; then carefully 'dress' their line, each captain taking pains for the good appearance of his company, worn and half starved as they were. The field and staff take their positions in the intervals of regiments; generals in rear of their commands. They fix bayonets, stack arms; then, hesitatingly, remove cartridge-boxes and lay them down. Lastly - reluctantly, with agony of expression - they tenderly fold their flags, battle-worn and torn, blood-stained, heart-holding colors, and lay them down; some frenziedly rushing from the ranks, kneeling over them, clinging to them, pressing them to their lips with burning tears. And only the Flag of the Union greets the sky!
If I have been able to capture the emotions expressed in Chamberlain's words, I will consider Salute of Honor to be an enormous success.