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After suffering a stunning defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg in early July of 1863, a bruised and battered Army of Northern Virginia retreated south from Pennsylvania, back into the familiar fields of the Old Dominion.
On August 8th, General Robert E. Lee sent a letter of resignation to Confederate States President Jefferson Davis, who summarily rejected the offer. Davis, like Lee’s men, had retained belief in their supreme commander and his ability to lead.
Among his strongest supporters and most loyal officers were General A.P. Hill and General James Longstreet. Both men had fought well under Lee’s tutelage and their unwavering allegiance to him was passed down through the ranks.
As the healing army approached Orange County Virginia in mid-August, General Hill was able to visit his home in nearby Culpeper and spend some precious time with his family. General Longstreet oversaw the march toward what would become the winter camps.
En route to their destination near the Rapidan Line earthworks, the Confederate forces marched past the Orange County Courthouse over a period of several days. The surrounding streets were filled with the sights and sounds of thousands of men, horses, wagons and artillery pieces passing by.
The courthouse became a beacon among the sea of gray uniformed masses. It was here where General Lee and his most trusted lieutenants would reunite to begin the process of resting and rebuilding their seasoned army. No one could foresee the ferocity of the fighting to come, and Orange County would witness some of the worst.
Mort Künstler Comments:
It has been eight years since I painted Soldier of Faith. In 2002, while searching for a building in Orange County, Virginia that would be the setting for my annual snow scene, there were two buildings that jumped out at me. One was St.Thomas’s Church, where General Robert E. Lee prayed during the winter of 1863-64.
The other was the courthouse.
I agonized over the choice, knowing that I would not be able to paint the Orange County Courthouse at the time. That opportunity finally arrived this spring when I visited Orange again. Along with an old friend,Frank Walker, we went to the corner of Main Street and Madison Road, the location of the courthouse, and I was delighted to see that the building had been restored to its previous splendor of the Civil War era.
Built in 1859, it is one of the first courthouses in the South to be based on the Italianate style. In 1949, its splendid arcaded porch was changed by bricking up the arches to create more office space. Fortunately, it was restored in 2003 and I feel very fortunate to be able to paint it for the first time as it looked during the War Between the States.
Robert E. Lee was always the center of interest, in real life as he is here in this painting. I have used the perspective lines of the courthouse to lead the eye, as well as silhouetting him and his hand gesture against the sky. His black hat against the white clouds also helps to draw the eye to him. A.P. Hill on his black horse Prince, had been given a few days’ leave to visit his family and home in nearby Culpeper. Lee’s “Old War
Horse,” James Longstreet with his ever-present cigar, is to the general’s immediate right. Marse Robert’s signature headquarters flag is plainly visible among the staff officers that stand nearby.
The Army of Northern Virginia would have taken several days to pass by the Orange County Courthouse. Having marched up the hill behind the courthouse, it made a right turn onto present day Main Street. On the left of the picture, an artillery battery rides by with infantry troops behind them. They would eventually go into their winter camps strung out behind the Rapidan Line earthworks and prepare for what we know would be the upcoming, crucial spring campaign of 1864.
Historical copy written by Michael Aubracht, author/historian