Work – IN – PROGRESS STATEMENT BY THE ARTIST, Charles Andrus
Almost a quarter of a century has passed since the close of America's - - as well as the world's - - greatest war. Of the nearly four millions of soldiers engaged in the great conflict on both sides, Time is rapidly thinning their ranks and the declining rays of every setting sun fall upon the newly-made graves of hundreds of the boys in blue, to whom every loyal person is indebted for the preservation of the greatest and most enlightened nation which the records of time has ever known.
Of the many memorable incidents and deeds which historians have recorded and poets made famous, nothing is more dramatic or soul-stirring than the event of Sheridan's ride form Winchester to Cedar Creek on the 19th of October, 1864. Notwithstanding the importance and brilliancy of this achievement, no artist has yet depicted upon canvas a painting worthy of this grand subject. To recreate such a scene, even though but of yesterday, is a task of great magnitude. But to bring up from the past after a lapse of twenty-five years an event of this description; to bring the dead and scattered soldiers back to apparent life; to clothe them with historic accuracy and make them, seemingly, move and speak, as the artist will do in this work, is a much more arduous undertaking.
The amount of study required for such a painting is difficult to imagine. Every detail of landscape, every face, figure and uniform has demanded careful and patient research, and neither time, pains nor expense have been spared to secure not only artistic excellence but absolute accuracy, thus making the painting a beautiful work of art as well as of historic value.
As the event which inspired the artist to produce this painting of Sheridan's Ride is a reality, and actually transpired in the presence of thousands of living witnesses, of whom nearly two hundred have furnished ample evidence of their presence there by contributions of their testimony; and every one of the nearly life size figures and portraits which appear in the foreground and middle distance of the painting are made from war-time photographs of officers and soldiers who were actually engaged on the battlefield that day.
In addition to submitting the plans of the work to the highest living authority that was on the field when the event of Sheridan's arrival occurred, the artist has personally visited the battlefield for the express purpose of making sketches and photographs of the entire landscape, in order not to omit the smallest item that would aid to absolute perfection of detail and secure the highest degree of realism, which all military men will recognize and appreciate.
To fully and faithfully portray this famous, dashing and dramatic scene, a canvas of colossal proportions is required, it containing 472 square feet of surface and being one-third larger than any other oil painting ever made in America. When this grand work of art is finished it is the purpose of the artist to place it on public exhibition in the principal cities and towns of the United States, in order to not only give the old soldiers and their families and friends an opportunity to view a work of art worthy of the war and that famous event, but also to invite the just verdict of the American public, desiring their criticism by way of comparison of this with works of foreign artists from the standpoint of actual merit, and demanding to know whether the talent of American artists shall be recognized and encouraged when thus deserving.
An American Artist,
CHAS. H. ANDRUS
Richford, Vermont 1889
Description and Explanation of the Painting
The position taken in viewing the scene represented on the canvas is from a point on the east of Shenandoah Valley Turnpike in the State of Virginia and the spectator is looking to the westward. The battlefield shown is one mile north of the village of Middletown and twelve miles south of Winchester. The distance shown from north to south along the line of oak woods on the farthest height of land is one and one-fourth miles. The set of buildings in the distant left are D. J. Miller's mill, house and barns, a position occupied by the Confederate line of battle and advancing line of skirmishers. Rebel sharpshooters having possession of the haystacks. Gens. J. A. Earley and John B. Gordon are near the mill. Fitz Hugh Lee being farther to the left and rear, near the barnyard fence. The Miller family were in the house at the time and saw Sheridan arrive, as well as the desperate charges made by our troops to dislodge the enemy from the heavy lines of stone wall in the afternoon.
The principal Union soldiers shown in foreground are the second brigade of the second division of the Sixth Army Corps. This brigade was better known as the Old Vermont Brigade, it being composed of the following Vermont regiments, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 11th. At the time of Sheridan's arrival the brigade was under the command of Col. A. S. Tracy. The division being then commanded by Gen. Lewis A. Grant, the present assistant secretary-of-war. Gen. A.T.A. Torbert, chief of Sheridan's cavalry staff, was the first officer to meet and salute him. He is seen on the bay horse galloping towards the turnpike, hat in hand. Col. A. S. Tracy is riding towards the front on the horse that is rearing to avoid the pile of loose rails now in the way.
Beyond the depression in the ground where Mill Run flows through the meadow is seen the entire formation of the Union line until it disappears around a point of the woods three-fourths of a mile distant. Gens. Wright and Getty may be seen consulting together a short distance to the rear at this point. In the middle distance just to the front of Sheridan is Gen. L. A. Grant looking towards the pike, and mounted on a bay horse with tail cut short. Gen. Grant had a better opportunity than any other officer present to known the state of affairs at this time of day and the essential features of the painting are based on the information he has furnished.
Farther to the right and rear is seen the late Gen. Geo. Crook. Just beyond the depression may be seen Col. R. B. Hayes, since president of the United States. Col. Hayes was severely wounded and dismounted but did not leave the field. On the high ground to the right on this side of Meadow or Mill Run is the ambulance corps caring for the wounded, and under command of Maj. J. C. Rutherford. In the lower right hand corner is the gallant and dashing Gen. Geo. A. Custer, wildly waving his hat as Sheridan passes by like a flash of light; near him is Gen. Wesley Merritt and Col. Chas. R. Lowell, Jr.
The portrait of Gen. Sheridan, occupying the center of the canvas, is from a photograph taken in 1864, and is pronounced a correct likeness of "Little Phil" of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign and the famous ride from Winchester twenty miles away. At the time of his arrival at the front only one of his staff of twenty men were in sight, the others being completely distanced.
The horsemen seen to the rear and in the pike are cavalry staff officers. The reason of not showing cavalry and artillery on the field is because they are not in sight from this point of view. The cavalry being on the east of the pike and what artillery that had not been captured by the Confederates in the morning had gone to the rear. There was no real battle in progress at the time of Sheridan's striking the extreme front. The Union troops had but a short time before fallen back to a new position as shown in order to straighten the line of battle, and there was only a scattering fire along both skirmish lines at half-past ten o'clock.*
The arrival of Sheridan was totally unexpected, and as he passed his men they only saw a dusty man whose outlines were familiar, and a foaming horse. They were completely stunned and surprised, and hardly dared to believe their own eyes. This is the moment that is represented on the canvas.
The position of the horse was taken from an instantaneous photograph, showing correctly the exact position taken by a horse as it leaps and wheels to the right at the same time. The size and color of the famous animal was produced by careful studies made from the original.
The canvas on which the painting was made is 17 x 28 feet, or containing 476 square feet. It was made to order in Paris and of the heaviest linen, woven by hand, costing when placed on the stretcher $229.
The first sketches for the painting were made in 1885, the final work beginning in 1888; it being finished for exhibition in January, 1890.
The designing, painting and whole work on this canvas is entirely the work of one person, not that of several specialists which are usually employed to produce the large paintings and cycloramas now on exhibition.
The general appearance of the painting has that of a water-color more than of an oil. This is produced purposely for two reasons: first, in order to produce the smoky appearance necessary to correctly represent a skirmish or engagement where there has been musket-firing. Smoke in nature always has a dead or dull appearance, never glossy nor varnished. Second, in order to roll the painting for transportation, the portions that under other circumstances would be oiled out, must now remain dead to prevent sticking together. To get the best and most satisfactory effect in viewing the painting the spectator should be at a distance of thirty feet away from it and stand on a platform four feet high, placed from five to ten feet to left of the painting. It is only from this position, with a powerful opera glass and the painting under strong light, that the wonderful distance and life-like expressions of the figures of the soldiers are seen and the labor of the artist appreciated.
CHAS. H. ANDRUS
Designer and Painter of "Sheridan's Ride"See Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, pages 82 and 83, 2nd Vol.