Historic Civil War painting to be unveiled on Veterans Day
Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo Syver Rogstad, of East Calais, works on a display in front of a massive Civil War panoramic painting at the Vermont History Center's new Civil War exhibit, which opens Sunday in Barre.
BARRE — A 150-foot-long Civil War painting that may be the last of its kind in the country will go on display Sunday at the Vermont History Center in Barre.
It will be in a new exhibit titled “Service and Sacrifice” that is part of the five-year commemoration of the war’s 150th anniversary. The show, which is timed to open on Veterans Day, will feature photos of scenes of the war by Brattleboro photographer George Houghton; a rotation of the state’s battle flags used during the war; and other paintings and artifacts from the late 1800s.
But the centerpiece will be the 6-by-150-foot panoramic painting of 10 scenes from the war created by Enosburgh artist Charles Andrus in the 1890s. The Vermont Historical Society acquired the work in the 1990s.
The 10 scenes on the giant scroll will be rotated in a mock theater display throughout the life of the exhibit, which is expected to be open for at least a year. Curator Jackie Calder said the panorama was designed to be displayed in a theater to veterans. In the time before television, paintings such as Andrus’ would be shown a scene at a time and an orator would describe what was happening in each.
The scene depicting the Battle of Gettysburg is so big, at 25 feet across, that it will have to be shown in two separate intervals.
The final scene is not from the war but shows Gen. George Custer’s last stand, where he charged into battle against American Indians in 1876 and was killed. Calder said the Custer scene is included because he was a Civil War hero and many veterans from that war knew him and fought with him.
Calder said she and others have looked for more panoramas such as this, but they have been unsuccessful. She believes the Andrus panorama is the only surviving one in the country.
The photos by Houghton are some of the first depicting the lives of soldiers during the war. Calder said Houghton traveled with troops from Vermont down to Virginia, where he photographed camp life.
Another piece of Vermont’s Civil War history on display is a plaster bust of Vermonter Stephen Brown. Calder said he was marching with other soldiers to Gettysburg, and when he left formation to get some water for the other soldiers he was reprimanded. Brown’s sword was taken away, leaving him unarmed when the Battle of Gettysburg started. Calder said Brown picked up a hatchet and ran into battle using it as a weapon until he could recover a sword off a dead Confederate soldier.
A statue of Brown commemorating the 13th Vermont Infantry stands at the battleground at Gettysburg. When the statue was being created, Calder said, Vermonters wanted Brown to be enshrined holding the hatchet, but the federal government decided against that, instead depicting Brown holding a sword. Calder said there is a hatchet lying at Brown’s feet, however.
The plaster bust that will be on display in Barre shows Brown holding the hatchet.
The opening Sunday on Veterans Day will feature a presentation by author and Rutland Herald/Times Argus contributor Donald Wickman. He created an award-winning book of photos by Houghton. Also at the opening, the living historians the Vermont Civil War Hemlocks will perform.
The opening will be from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Vermont Historical Society’s center on Washington Street. The gallery is regularly open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free until Dec. 31.
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