Tag Archives: American History

Walking a Mile in Their (Civil War) Shoes: The Perils of Living History

Biblical parables and shop-worn cliches aside, my feet hurt. I simply cannot imagine marching hundreds of miles with these medieval torture devices on my feet, only to be thrown into some of the most brutal combat our country has ever seen.

Civil War shoes worn by the author

Shoes of a Confederate Infantryman Worn by the Author

Ok, so I’m overstating the case. But, these shoes are not Nike Air Jordans (Yes, I’m dating myself here).  They are authentic recreations of the typical nineteenth century footwear worn by Confederate soliders on Civil War Battlefields during one of America’s darkest times. The soles are thin but hard, and they are fastened together by iron nails, as you can see in the photo.  The nails create the contact point with the ground, which makes the shoes slippery on hard, smooth surfaces (such as the ubiquitous hardwood floors of that era), as well as hard and inflexible on the bottoms of one’s feet.

After about 30 minutes of wearing them, my feet felt like I had hiked on a concrete path for 10 miles. The souls of the men that wore these on long marches and into battle had to be harder than the soles on their feet.

This, of course, is the point of Living History Civil War Re-enactment is much more than playing dress-up and fantasizing about daring adventures in the days of yore. Re-enactment is about treading where the people of the past have tread and experiencing what they experienced as best as one can with our modern sensibilities. In its purest form, Living History is about empathy and education. To an observer it may seem silly. To a participant, it is often quite serious.

I wore these shoes during a happy and light-hearted affair, but when I sat down after the fanfare was over, rubbing my sore feet while relaxing in one of our whirlpool suites, I reflected on the people that have come before. Something as simple as a shoe, and the very real pain it caused, was enough to help me appreciate the hardened force of will that must have permeated the armies of the Civil War, both Federal and Confederate. Tough men in tough times doing tough things.

This is why the work of those who would educate us about the historical mileu is so important. Mort Kunstler, for example, is a renowned artist of Civil War scenes. His work is authentic, inspiring, and evocative. He brings out the human and emotional element of some of the quieter but more poignant moments of the American Civil War.  We were honored to host this eminent artist at a reception in our historic inn, especially since the scene Mort Kunstler depicted in Unconquered Spirit occurred just two blocks from our house, which was standing at that time. In fact, only a few months after Generals Lee, Hill, and Longstreet came together in front of the courthouse in the Town of Orange (the scene from Unconquered Spirit), a number of Lee’s officers, including the famous J.E.B Stuart, attended a wedding party right in our parlor! Thus, with several folks (including Sharon and I) dressed in period-appropriate clothes, the reception took on a meaning and a flair akin to that of the Civil War wedding reception that, according to one contemporary diarist,  continued until 4 o’clock in the morning!  Town and County officials, local residents, historians, and friends celebrated Mr. Kunstler’s work with food, wine, and good cheer. The following day, Mr. Kunstler signed his prints on the historic steps of the Orange County Courthouse, which was the backdrop for his recent painting.

We would like to extend a special “thank you” to Steve Silvia of J.S. Mosby’s Antiques and Bill and Nancy Graham for providing authentic period clothing, as well as Brian Pratlow for serving as part of our honor guard and as a greeter. Our favorite local caterer, Chef Paul Diegl from Real Food provided some of the food. Also, thank you to Frank Walker, emminent local historian and Civil War tour guide, for helping to organize the event!

For anyone who is interested, we served wine from Barboursville, a popular Virginia winery. The Cabernet Sauvignon was the clear favorite!

Upcoming Reception for Renowned Civil War Artist

The Civil War is brought to life at our Virginia Bed and Breakfast Inn

 Historical Artwork, portraying historical events, in an historic house–what a great opportunity to Experience Virginia!

Unconquered Spirit, Mort Kunstler

Unconquered Spirit, a Painting by Mort Kunstler

1859 Orange County Courthouse

The historic courthouse in Orange, Virginia as it looks today

We are excited to report a fantastic event next weekend, 17-18 September 2010.  A renowned artist of historical subjects, Mort Kunstler, will be visiting in Orange, Virginia  to unveil his latest work, Unconquered Spirit.  This poignant painting depicts a scene taking place in front of the historic 1859 Orange County Courthouse, just two blocks away from our Virginia bed and breakfast. This evocative painting depicts a scene from 1863, a few days after the Battle of Gettysburg, when General Robert E. Lee and his officers arrived in the Town of Orange to establish a defensive line and set up winter camps for his beleaguered men.

According to Mr. Kunstler, “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. 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.” In the painting, General Lee appears composed and in command as he organizes the activities of General A.P. Hill and General James Longstreet, both of who seem to come alive off of the canvas.

Soldier of Faith by Mort Kunstler

Soldier of Faith by Mort Kunstler

Mr. Kunstler has painted other scenes in Orange, two of which took place within just a few hundred feet from our Virginia inn.  One, Solider of Faith, depicts General Lee less than one block to the south of the our historic home, riding in front of  St. Thomas Episcopal Church. The Confederates used this church as a hospital during the war, and Lee worshipped here during his winter stay in Orange. His pew is still extant.

At the time of both of these scenes, Orange residents referred to what is now the Holladay House Bed and Breakfast as the Chapman House, after the family of John Madison Chapman (great nephew of President James Madison). Historical documents confirm that Lee and his officers rode by the Chapman House (now the Holladay House)  numerous times during that winter, and a hospital steward, John Samuel Apperson, pitched his tent across the street.  In his diaries, Apperson related stories about the Chapman family. In February 1864, he described a wedding ceremony held here that J.E.B. Stuart, the famous Confederate General, attended. Apparently, a junior officer in Lee’s army had been courting Ms. Emma Chapman, John Madison Chapman’s daughter, and the couple wed a few months after the army’s arrival in Town. In fact, the scene depicted in Soldier of Faith, would have occurred around the same time as this wedding. According to Apperson, the wedding instigated a night of great merriment, for “the dance was kept up ’till about 4 o’clock in the morning.”

Saint Thomas Episcopal Church

St. Thomas Episcopal Church, depicted in Soldier of Faith, has been standing since about 1830

We are excited to host Mort Kunstler because the history of our house is so tightly connected to the scenes depicted in his artwork. Mr. Kunstler has been painting scenes from American history for almost 30 years, and his work has achieved numerous accolades.

Born in 1931, his earliest experiences were those of the closing years of the Great Depression followed by World War II. He soon exhibited an artistic talent that was subsequently developed and refined by studies at Brooklyn College, U.C.L.A., and the Pratt Institute. Over the years, Mr. Kunstler has produced book jackets, magazine covers, illustrations, posters and even the 29-cent Buffalo Soldiers postage stamp. He has become one of the most widely known and respected historical artists of our time. His interest in the Civil War, America’s defining moment, has led to the production of a series of paintings that have attracted collectors from all points of the globe.

On 17 September, we are hosting a welcoming reception for this renowed artist. We expect an excellent turnout, as Mr. Kunstler, his friends and associates, town and county leaders, and members of our community will all be in attendance! During this reception, the artist will discuss the historical context and artistic challenges of the scene that he has expertly depicted.

At 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 18, Mr. Kunstler will be in the foyer of the 1859 Orange County court house to meet the purchasers of prints of Unconquered Spirit and to sign those prints for them. Period music will be performed in the courtyard by the Virginia Serenaders. The Holladay House will be open to visitors. St. Thomas’ Church, with its Lee Pew, will also be open to visitors. There will be walking tours from the court house to the church from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Local shops and restaurants will be open.

Please join us for this grand event! Mort Kunstler captures the heart and soul of America in all his works, and we are thrilled to host him in our historic inn.