High Water Mark – Poster
High Water Mark – Poster
Gettysburg, July 3, 1863
This poster is from Mort Künstler’s 1989-1990 one-man exhibition of paintings at Hammer Galleries, New York.
In the mid-afternoon’s heat, the searing blast of cannon and popping of musketry mix with the acrid smell of gunpowder. General Lee’s last effort at breaking the Union line is grinding to an end. Moments before, Confederate troops of Pickett, Pettigrew and Trimble had gallantly advanced through open farm fields, marching into the face of unrelenting artillery fire. Then came the musketry while the big guns changed to canister. Determined to succeed, the gray-clad troops moved on, gathering behind their flags. Brief success by Virginians at the Angle is met with equal vengeance but they are forced back. Farther to the North, under a withering fire, a regiment of men press on behind the flag of the 26th North Carolina, struggling to reach the Union Line. A survivor wrote: “As far as the eye could see on either side… that splendid sight of a perfect line of battle, but the enemy’s artillery opened on us with grape [&] canister. Our lines crossed the lane [Emmitsburg Road] in splendid order when, about two hundred yards from their works the musketry opened on us. Nothing daunted, our brave men pressed quickly forward and when we had reached within about forty yards of the works, our regiment had been reduced to a skirmish line by the constant falling of the men at every step – but still they kept closing to the colors.”
Mort Künstler’s Comments
My desire to do a painting to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg led me to Gettysburg in early 1988. I was anxious to do a battle scene that would be instantly recognizable to the Civil War buff as Gettysburg, the turning point of the war. After a great deal of reading, studying the battlefield and consulting with chief historian Kathy Harrison, and historians John Heiser and Bob Prosperi of the National Military Park, I felt the view looking south at Cemetery Ridge just north of the angle would do it all.
In one painting, I was able to capture the Union troops firmly entrenched behind the stone wall during Pickett’s Charge, with the famed Angle and Copse of Trees as well as the identifiable Little and Big Round Tops in the background. In the right foreground are soldiers of the 22nd and 26th North Carolina charging headlong into the overwhelming fire of the 14th Connecticut. In the right middle ground, a soldier from the 26th North Carolina in the shell jacket and blue pants with his back towards the viewer, wears an “Iron Brigade” hat as a trophy, taken from a fallen Union soldier in the fierce fighting of two days earlier. Pennsylvania regiments battle in the Angle in front of the Copse of Trees with Armistead’s Virginians as the Garibaldi Guard rush in as reinforcements from the left. The cannon, firing double canisters at close range, from Arnold’s battery, takes its deadly toll. This was the moment when the Southerners started to surrender and retreat. For me, this was the High Water Mark of the Confederacy.
Note: This poster is unsigned.