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Lee's Wrong-Footed General

May 21st, 2009 by Brendan Wolfe · 2 Comments

lee_generals

I enjoyed the following bit of snark from the historian Gary W. Gallagher. He’s referring to the 1907 print Lee and His Generals by George Bagby Matthews (above). In suggesting that Matthews’s artistic skill was perhaps lacking and his choices sometimes odd (“Lee stands just a bit taller than twenty-five fellow generals, all of whom, remarkably, appear to be the same height”), Gallagher notes that

Albert Sidney Johnston, the South’s ranking field commander, who is fourth from the left, seems to have put his left boot on his right foot (historians seeking explanations for Confederate defeat have overlooked this as possible evidence of ineptitude on Johnston’s, rather than Matthews’s, part).

Ouch. This, by the way, comes from his essay “Brushes, Canvases, and the Lost Cause: The Ascendancy of Confederate Themes in Recent Civil War Art,” in Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood & Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War (2008).

The Virginia Historical Society, meanwhile, reminds us that in Lee and His Generals,

Many of the figures portrayed had never gathered together during the war, and a number of the generals were dead by its end, but it mattered little that such groupings were imaginary. More relevant was that such fanciful imagery presented the hierarchy of the Confederate military as akin to King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, fighters for justice and freedom from oppression.

Of course, all ages need fighters for justice, and in this age, you can do that with the Robert E. Lee & His Officers Tribute Rifle.

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Which comes, as you can see, equipped with its own engraving of Matthews’s iconic group portrait. Squint your eyes and you’ll notice that Albert Sidney Johnston’s feet are cropped out.

Right-footed at last.

Tags: Virginia History · Visual History

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 mark detl // Aug 21, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    Hi,
    My father is a civil war buff and has asked me to track down this painting to find out who the 25 generals are in this painting. Can you please pass this info along to me please?
    Thank You!
    MARK D.

  • 2 Brendan Wolfe // Aug 24, 2009 at 9:02 am

    Thanks for the comment, Mark. I think a Google search is your best bet.

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