BLOG, or DIE. Author Bio
Thursday, 9 June 2011
Keeping with our recurring art theme
Of all the bullets on my resume, perhaps none make me prouder than my side-job as the personal copywriter for renowned Civil War painter Mort Kunstler. I got this cherry-gig after I penned a few articles on the artist for The Free Lance-Star here in Fredericksburg, VA (feature). After 3-years together, I am now coming up on what will be my 10th piece (sample) and I can’t wait to see what my friend will paint next. Although Mort has spent the last two decades focusing on the Civil War, he has done some excellent pieces on the Revolutionary War period over the course of his extraordinary 40+year career. This includes paintings from his The American Spirit series. Here is one of my favorites:
World Turned Upside Down (Yorktown, Va., October 19, 1781)
Finally, they had won. After more than six years of warfare, the War for Independence was ending – and it was an American victory. So many times the cause of American freedom had seemed lost. So much hardship had been borne by these Continental troops, and so often General George Washington had kept them in the war equipped with little more than determination. Now, aligned before them was the fearsome British army that had been sent to conquer the South – the army that had won so many victories in the Carolinas and had inflicted so much suffering on American civilians. Now these troops in red uniforms – composing perhaps the finest army in the world – were laying down their arms in surrender. And standing victorious before them were America’s citizen soldiers – “contemptible, cowardly dogs,” a British commander had once erroneously and ironically called them.
Led by General Washington and strengthened by a French army under General Comte de Rochambeau, these Continental troops had trapped General Charles Cornwallis and his British army with their backs to the water at Yorktown, Virginia. Washington had led a forced march from New York to the Virginia coast, and had taken the British by surprise. A French fleet had defeated the British navy at the nearby battle of the Capes – ending all hope of rescue for Cornwallis. The British had been battered into submission at Yorktown by a five-day artillery bombardment and repeated attacks by the Americans and the French. Finally, Cornwallis admitted defeat, and surrendered his army to the Americans he had so underestimated – but he could not bear to do it in person. He officially claimed to be ill, and sent a substitute, General Charles O’Hara, to perform the humiliating task. O’Hara offered the surrender sword to General Rochambeau, who recognized the intended insult, and pointed him toward General Washington. The General refused as well, and directed the British substitute to a subordinate, General Benjamin Lincoln.
And so it ended. Other British troops were in the field – a huge army in New York – but the surrender at Yorktown was humiliation enough, and King George III agreed to give up the American colonies he had once vowed to subdue. As Cornwallis’ defeated army marched to the surrender, a British band played a contemporary tune entitled “The World Turned Upside Down.” It was more appropriate than even they realized: American independence would launch a freedom movement that would topple tyrants for generations to come and would inspire oppressed peoples throughout the world to a “new birth of freedom.”
Mort Kunstler’s Comments:
In the fall of 2005, the U.S. Army War College’s Class of 2006 Gift Committee asked me if I would be interested in a commission to paint the surrender at Yorktown. To be able to accurately paint an event of such enormous importance was a wonderful opportunity. I’ve had an interest in this subject for a long time. Back in the 1970s, I did two small paintings on the surrender, and since I always wanted to do a major painting on the subject, I accepted the commission. I contacted Diane Depew at the National Park Service in Yorktown and John Giblin of the Army War College to help with the details.
“The World Turned Upside Down” places the Continental troops on the left with their artillery in the foreground. This is the way the scene would have looked to a British soldier standing in the road, waiting to march between the line of American troops, and French troops seen in the right background. It’s a different perspective from earlier artworks of the topic – and one that I think gives us a fresh view of this pivotal historical event.
The commander of Washington’s French allies, General Rochambeau sits astride his horse on the extreme right, with the flags of his Soissonnais Regiment fluttering above him. To his left, Washington’s aide, General Benjamin Lincoln – mounted on his grey charger – accepts the surrender from British General Charles O’Hara. General George Washington, is seen mounted to the left of his personal headquarters flag, the blue banner with the white stars. The flag with the unusual arrangement of red, white and blue stripes seen immediately to the right of Washington’s flag is a well-documented early American flag of the period.
The helmeted troops on General Washington’s right are the elite Life Guard, who served as the general’s personal guard. After the surrender ceremony, the British had to march a mile and a half to finally lay down their arms at what became known as “Surrender Field” – now a national historic site. Although the Yorktown region had been drenched with torrential rains two nights earlier – as indicated by the puddle in the foreground – the day of the surrender was described as a beautiful, clear day with lots of white, puffy clouds. The puddle is also used as a design element, to act as a pointer that guides the viewer to the painting’s center of interest – General O’Hara offering the sword of surrender to General Lincoln.
I really enjoyed painting “The World Turned Upside Down” – it was a nice departure from the usual Civil War subjects I have been doing and I hope it proves to be a long-lasting reminder of our hard-won American freedom.
More related paintings:
The Capture of Fort Motte
Benedict Arnold Demands the Powderhouse Key
Washington at Carlisle
Digging the Trenches at Yorktown
Lafayette With Washington at Morristown
Monday, 6 June 2011
Gathering of Eagles 2011
On Saturday (June 4th) I had the privilege of participating in the Annual Gathering of Eagles at the historic Old Courthouse Civil War Museum in Winchester Virginia. This one-of-a-kind event offers a weekend filled with the foremost impressionists of leaders and politicians from both sides of the Civil War. This was my fourth appearance in six years and although the crowds were a bit slimmer due to the economy, everyone had a great time.
Coinciding with the Civil War Sesquicentennial, this year’s theme was 1861, the “Gathering Storm.” The hosts, Lee’s Lieutenants and the Federal General’s Corps, delivered incredibly unique performances that focused on the period leading up to the war. It was neat to see all of the Confederate Generals dressed up in their blue U.S. Army uniforms when performing the scenes that took place prior to secession. Some of the performances included a re-enactment of the two president’s inaugural addresses, an emotional piece that dealt with the separation of friends, a discussion over the issues of loyalty and traitors, and the always popular “Meet the Generals.”
I had the privilege of sharing the Author’s Tent with some outstanding historians including Jerry Hilsworth, author of Civil War Winchester and Scott Mingus Sr. (and his son) author of Flames Beyond Gettysburg and about 6 other titles. I really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know these guys who are all experts in their field of study. Jerry’s knowledge of Winchester’s wartime experiences, especially off of the battlefield, was tremendous and Scott’s expertise on regiments like the Louisiana Tigers blew me away. Scott’s son, a professor from Liberty University, and I shared some great conversations on the state of Major League Baseball.
This year I focused on selling DVDs in place of my books. Despite being an outdoor event, I managed to run electricity and set up our usual display with movie props, promo materials, a behind the scenes kiosk, and the film playing on a small screen. This enabled me to share the story of Richard Kirkland with a diverse group of people who were coming in and out of the re-enactor events. I spoke to several college kids, members from a kid’s soccer team, retired folks, Civil War buffs and an elementary school librarian. My parents even came by on the way home from Gettysburg.
Everyone was very receptive to Kirkland’s story and asked great questions. The one comment I got repeatedly was that folks were familiar with the monument in Fredericksburg, but never knew the story behind it. Every time I hear that it reinforces how important this story is and how thankful I am to be part of this movie. One of the biggest joys for me as the producer is the opportunities that I get to meet people. Over the last year we have screened the The Angel of Marye’s Heights in Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Lexington, Lynchburg, Pittsburgh, Manassas, Winchester, Arlington, Savannah, Columbia and Brunswick. The Angel is also being shown (and sold) at multiple museums and used in history classrooms from New York to California. People from almost every state have purchased a copy of the DVD and we even have some international sales. The buzz keeps growing and growing.
This past weekend was the cap on a year that has reinforced the idea (for me) that doing this stuff really matters. Whether it’s writing a book, attending a re-enactment, producing a documentary, or simply talking to people, those of us that have dedicated a portion of our lives to preserving and presenting the history of our nation are doing a great service to the memories of those who came before us. This is proven by the people we meet, who validate our efforts and make all of this worth it.
Thursday, 2 June 2011
The search for Adam Allan continues
As a historian and writer I feel very fortunate to be living in the Internet Age. Network computers have been a constant in my life since the 6th-grade and thanks to the rapid progression of web-technology, the once laborious process of reference-gathering has been replaced (or at least augmented) by nanosecond cyber-surfing. Routine functions like electronic archiving and keyword searches have enabled the Internet to evolve into a vast repository of historical information. Although a discerning eye and traditional researching skills are still required, the ability to quickly identify potential sources and whittle them down has been accelerated greatly. To be completely honest, I do not know if I would have ever pursued a historical writing vocation if I had to do it the slow way, you know…by hand. Actually check that - there is no way.
The ability to blog and participate in social networks such as Facebook has provided an entirely new way of meeting people. You may recall a few months back that I began a side-project searching for information on a Fredericksburg Loyalist named Adam Allan (See March 15, 2011 posts: Looking at Loyalists – and – A History Mystery). On day-one I came upon two “Adam Allans” who shared many similarities including their name. This required me to expand my study and pursue both individuals separately. This week I borrowed a few library books published by local Colonial-era historian Paula S. Felder. I am still reading them. After 2+ months I have yet to track down a definitive connection that proves these Allans are one and the same or different people.
Yesterday I received an email from a wonderful woman named Cathy in Brisbane Australia. Cathy is a direct descendant of Adam Allan’s brother John. She discovered my blog while searching the Internet and decided to contact me directly. I am grateful she did. Not only did Cathy affirm some of my own suspicions, she was kind enough to send me the family background that she had acquired along with permission to post it here. This is a perfect example of how the Internet can bring people together who otherwise would never have met. Thanks to Cathy I now have a better sense of who I am looking for. I will be sending her my conclusions when the time comes and look forward to sharing this journey with her family. Here are her findings:
I can confirm for you that the Adam Allan, who was a lieutenant in the Queen's Rangers, was christened in Dumfries, Scotland, on 4 March 1756. I have attached our copy of his christening entry (an image which is obviously subject to copyright). Adam is the first entry on the page. He was the third son of James Allan, a Dumfries shoemaker, and his wife, Margaret Black. "Shoemaker" when applied to James Allan definitely does not appear to have meant "impoverished cobbler eking out a living". All the evidence we have found so far suggests that the Allans were very comfortably placed and that Adam was a well educated young man. In addition to their shoemaking interests, the family had a farm, Fountainbleau, on the outskirts of Dumfries; a property which they continued to own well into the nineteenth century.
There is absolutely no doubt that our Adam Allan is the man who was a lieutenant in the Queen's Rangers. Adam appears to have had a bit of an artistic bent as he translated Allan Ramsey's "The Gentle Shepherd", a play that had been written in the lowland Scots vernacular, into English. He had this translation published in London in 1798 with the following title page:
THE NEW GENTLE SHEPHERD
A Pastoral Comedy
Originally Written in the Scotch Dialect by Allan Ramsey Reduced to English by Lieutenant Adam Allan
In the late 1880s, William Allan, a grandson of Adam's brother John, loaned a copy of this translation, together with a silhouette of Adam Allan, to the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Scientific, Natural History and Antiquarian Society for display purposes. These items were obviously prized family possessions. I've attached our copy of the Transactions of that Society that record the loan and note the author of the work as Lieutenant Allan of the Canadian Queen's Rangers.
As to whether Adam Allan of the Queen's Rangers and the Adam Allan in Williamsburg and Fredericksburg are the same man: When left to his own devices, our Adam spelt his surname Allan (as did all the family) just as it appears in the advertisements you uncovered. The only place I have seen it recorded as Allen is in his military records. Our Adam would have been barely 20 years old when the events in Fredericksburg took place. Twenty just seems so desperately young both to be running a stocking manufacturing business and to be being tarred and feathered for your political convictions. But maybe that's just me looking at an 18th century event through 21st century eyes.
Monday, 30 May 2011
Remembering where it all began...
This is how we acknowledge Memorial Day at the Aubrecht house.
The “Join, or Die.” flag is based on a well-known political cartoon that was created by Benjamin Franklin and first published in his Pennsylvania Gazette on May 9, 1754. The image appeared alongside an editorial about the disunited state of the colonies, and helped make his point about the importance of colonial unity. The powerful depiction of a segmented snake resonated with his readers who adopted it as a symbol of colonial freedom during the American Revolutionary War.
Franklin was well aware of the courage and sacrifice that would be required to prevent his visual metaphor from becoming a reality. In a letter written to his friend Jonathan Shipley in 1782 he wrote, “After much occasion to consider the folly and mischiefs of a state of warfare, and the little or no advantage obtained even by those nations who have conducted it with the most success, I have been apt to think that there has never been, nor ever will be, any such thing as a good war, or a bad peace.”
Thursday, 26 May 2011
A few announcements before I go off the grid for Memorial Day weekend...
I spoke with my friend Benjamin Smith at Patriots of the American Revolution. Due to a high volume of articles my feature on the Alexander Hamilton – Aaron Burr duel titled “American Gladiators” has been pushed from the July/August issue to the September/October mag. Ben also approved my pitch for a feature on Thomas Paine titled “Beliefs of an Unbeliever.” This piece will look at his highly controversial pamphlet The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology.
After a 2-year hiatus, I am returning to the Gathering of Eagles at the Winchester Court House Civil War Museum on Saturday, June 4th. This will be my fourth appearance at this unique re-enactment hosted by Lee’s Lieutenants. I will be set up in the author’s area, selling copies of “The Angel of Marye’s Heights” on DVD, as well as Will White’s soundtrack on CD. Hope to see you there.
There are some BIG announcements coming up from Right Stripe Media. Good things continue to happen with our first documentary The Angel of Marye’s Heights and we are deep into the planning stages for our second film project on Billy The Kid (working title: “El Chivato”) Details to come. My partner Clint Ross and I have been approached by a school teacher from Ditmas Junior High School in New York who is in the process of gathering materials to teach young children about the Civil War. We have agreed to provide a free copy of our DVD along with some personalized letters for the class. This means that “The Angel” is now being shown at the elementary, middle school and college level. On a slightly related topic, I hope to have the video from my speech in Pittsburgh on the 123rd PA Volunteers posted in a week or two.
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