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Cavalry Camp of the SC Holcomb Legion, New Kent County, VA, March 1863, 1863
Conrad Wise Chapman (1842-1910)

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Oil on English fiber board
10 x 14 inches
Signature Details: CWC Inscribed on verso: Cavalry Camp of the S(o) C(a) Halcomb Legion/ New Kent C(o) V(a) Mar. 1863/ for Rev(d) D(r) Lyman../ by C.W. Chapman
Status: Private Collection, Florida

Inscribed on verso:  “Cavalry Camp of the So. Ca. Halcomb Legion[,]

New Kent Co. Va. Mar. 1863” and “for Revd. Dr. Lyman by C.W. Chapman”

Verso also contains an attached label: “Charles Roberson & Co.  Artists’ Colourmen.  Manufacturers of Water and Oil Colours, Materials for Drawing & Painting.  99, Long Acre, London”

The return of this painting by Conrad Wise Chapman to public attention is a noteworthy event in the history of the artist’s life and career.  The finished painting is in good condition and bears a contemporaneous frame that corresponds to other European-made frames that embellish and protect other Civil War-era paintings by Conrad and his father John Gadsby Chapman (1808-89). Signed with Conrad Chapman’s monogram on the front of the painting and with the signature “C.W. Chapman” on the reverse, there can be little doubt that this is the painting that Ben Bassham described as “a lost painting” on page 102 of his monograph, Conrad Wise Chapman Artist & Soldier of the Confederacy (1998).  Until recently the location of the painting and even the knowledge that it had survived to the present was an uncertainty.  However, the image that Chapman painted in March 1863 was well known because the painter’s father had created an etching from it.  That etching, titled “Cavalry Camp of the Halcomb Legion,” was created from the newly-found painting and was created circa 1864 (10 x 13 ¾ inches, Valentine Museum, Richmond) and is an accurate rendition of the painting.  Bassham included a depiction of the etching (102). 

Conrad Wise Chapman’s inscription “for Revd. Dr. Lyman” suggests that Chapman sold or gave this work to Reverend Theodore Benedict Lyman (1815-93), an Episcopal priest who later became the fourth Episcopal bishop of North Carolina (1883-93).  From 1860 to 1870 Lyman resided in Italy, where he was a founder of Episcopal churches in both Florence and Rome.  During that decade he was likely acquainted with the Chapmans and other American artists living in Rome, giving him the opportunity to acquire the painting sometime soon after it was completed.  Descended through generations of Lyman’s heirs, Cavalry Camp of the So. Ca. Halcomb Legion remained out of public knowledge until being placed on the market in recent years. 

The father and son completed in Rome numerous oil paintings based upon Conrad’s plein-air sketches and oil studies.  Additionally, John Gadsby Chapman created fourteen etchings from his son’s wartime oil studies and finished paintings.  The history of the father and son collaboration is particularly interesting in that the collaboration seems to have been fully-integrated as a family enterprise operated by John Gadsby Chapman in Rome, Italy. 

In effect, the father and son comprised a fine-arts production company that created a remarkable visual record of the American Civil War from a resolutely pro-Confederate point of view. 

The Chapman family of Virginia was a dynasty of nineteenth-century southern painters that bears comparison with the Peale family painters of Pennsylvania and the Weir family of New York.  Trained by distinguished American painters and in European academies, the Chapmans were artist-exiles who lived in Italy before, during, and after the American Civil War.  The patriarch of the family, John Gadsby Chapman and his sons Conrad Wise and John Linton (1839-1905) had a hand in creating and preserving some of the most valuable landscape and genre paintings of the Civil War.  They were staunch defenders of the Confederate States of America—before, during, and after the war— and that allegiance distinguishes them from other American artist families.  Their support of the defeated southern cause has until recent years likely led to some degree of neglect of their achievements and obscured their legacy in American art history.   The body of works that Conrad Wise Chapman and his father created on the Siege of Charleston—especially depictions of the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley—have in recent years brought both of them to a more just level of appreciation and critical study. 

Conrad Wise Chapman was born in 1842 in Washington, D.C.  A few years after his birth his parents traveled to Europe and settled in Rome, where they resided for the most part for thirty-four years.  Chapman’s mother, Mary Luckett Chapman (1810-74) long residence and death in Rome epitomized the family’s place among the American artist’s exile community when she was interred in the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome, the resting place of John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, James De Veaux, and other noteworthy artists and writers (Catalog, 65, n. 2).

When the Civil War began in April 1861, Conrad was nineteen years of age and living in Rome but he was eager to join the Confederate cause.  He returned to the United States and made his way to Kentucky, where he joined Company D of the Third Kentucky Infantry Regiment as a private.  Throughout his service as a combat infantryman, Chapman actively sketched camp and battle scenes and also created fully-developed oil paintings.   He participated in combat with that regiment during 1862 and created numerous battle and camp scenes.  Among these were studies and two oil paintings of encampments of the Third Kentucky Regiment near Corinth, Mississippi.  Chapman suffered a head wound at the Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862, and recovered from it at home in Virginia.  In September 1862, Chapman secured a transfer to Company A of the 46th Virginia Infantry Regiment and by July 1863 was on the roster of the 59th Virginia Infantry Regiment as an ordnance sergeant.  These regiments were part of General Henry A. Wise’s Brigade.  Wise was a personal friend of the Chapmans and likely took the young artist into his protection. 

From April 1862 through September 1863, Wise’s Brigade and the 59th Virginia Regiment performed picket duty as one of the outer perimeter defenses southeast of Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capitol.  The 59th was encamped much of that year at Chaffin’s Bluff and at a bridgehead on Diascund Creek.  The regiment saw little action during that period, which may have been part of John Gadsby Chapman’s plan to keep his impetuous son out of harm’s way.   As the regiment waited to be put into action, Conrad Chapman created more than thirty drawings, oil studies, and, eventually, finished paintings that depicted the activities and personnel of the 59th and other locally-camped Confederate units. 

The Virginia works by Chapman father and son are second only to the series of drawings, studies, paintings, and engravings that depicted the defenses of Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, during fall 1863 and the first months of 1864.  Two finished paintings, Camp, 59th Virginia infantry at Diascund Bridge (1863) and 59th Virginia Infantry—Wise’s Brigade, were doubtless painted from oil studies while Conrad Wise Chapman was in Rome after February 1864.  Chapman’s father created an etching from the latter painting—now unlocated—in the same manner in which he treated Cavalry Camp of the So. Ca. Halcomb Legion.  Given the frequency and serendipity with which Chapman’s studies and even finished works have been rediscovered in the past few years, it is certainly possible that the 59th Virginia Infantry painting may come to light as a complement to its etching. 

These camp scenes were highly detailed and incorporated individuals known to Chapman.  While encamped at Diascund, Chapman drew “Old Shine—The Paganini of New Kent, Virginia” and “Picket Post,” works that he and his father transformed into etchings and finished paintings.  “Picket Post” was a self-portrait by Chapman that his father transformed into an etching and which he, himself, completed as a finished oil painting.    Another drawing that Chapman titled “Quarter Guard” survives as a drawing, an oil study, and a finished work on canvas.  The evolution of these works from one medium to another provides valuable information on the work habits of this soldier-artist and insights into the activities of the Chapman’s’ family fine arts business in Rome.  According to Bassham, while in camp with the 59th Chapman began a series of illustrations to be included in a fencing manual to be published by C. F. Partigan, a fencing instructor in Richmond.  The manual was never published and only three of the drawings survive (Bassham, 104-5). 

Chapman’s “Picket Post” is immediately important to this examination of Cavalry Camp of the So. Ca. Halcomb Legion because it provides visual evidence that the artist included himself in the painting.  Depicted standing behind a tree on the right of the painting, Chapman is a partly-concealed outsider, visiting the camp but not one of its personnel.  Although the figure is small, it clearly bears the features of Chapman as he depicted himself in “Picket Post.”  Chapman had a penchant for including himself in his drawings and paintings and indeed, one of his paintings, Camp of the 3rd Kent[ucky Infantry Volunteer Regiment] N[ea]r Corinth, Miss. May 11th 1862, contains an after-the-fact image of himself inserted on the left side of the painting—the solitary figure resting on his musket—and possibly a humorous depiction of his father as the figure at lower right plucking a chicken.  Closer examination of Chapman’s works will likely reveal more small self-portraits among the many soldiers who inhabit his works.

Holcombe’s Legion, a South Carolina unit comprised of cavalry and infantry battalions but lacked the artillery to be considered a “complete” legion, had been created in November 1861 and was named for Lucy Holcombe Pickens (1832-99), wife of Governor Francis Wilkinson Pickens (1805-69) of South Carolina.  Its five cavalry companies served together with the legion through the first four years of the war as components of the legion.  It was reported that Lucy Holcombe had funds to create the regiment by selling jewelry given her by Tsar Alexander II of Russia during her husband’s residence as United States Minister to Russia.  The unit served throughout the war, mostly in Virginia but also saw service in the defenses of Charleston, South Carolina, in 1864.  At various times it was part of the brigades of Generals Nathan Evans, Stephen Elliott, and William H. Wallace, all native South Carolinians.

When Wise’s Brigade and its component 59th Virginia Infantry Regiment transferred to Charleston, South Carolina, in September 1863, Chapman began his most sustained body of Civil War artwork, representations of the numerous forts and gun batteries that ringed Charleston Harbor and defended the city during it famous siege.  While in his Charleston, Chapman’s artistic skills were recognized and made the basis of his duties for the remainder of his military service. 

As Chief of Ordnance in Richmond, Josiah Gorgas (1818-83) was responsible for the creation and disposition of most of the artillery used by the Confederacy.  He commissioned Chapman to document the kinds of artillery and their placement in Charleston Harbor coincided well with Beauregard’s interests in composing a visual and narrative history of the Siege of Charleston.  Chapman created a series of drawings, water-colors, and oil sketches that he and his father later utilized to create Conrad Chapman’s most enduring works, thirty-one small oil paintings that depicted Fort Sumter, Fort Moultrie, the H.L. Hunley submarine, a David torpedo boat, and twelve other batteries that ringed Charleston Harbor.  Seven oil paintings depicted Fort Sumter and three offered views of Fort Moultrie, the famous military structure on Sullivan’s Island.  Conrad Wise Chapman’s Confederate Submarine Boat H.L. Hunley, Dec. 6, 1863, The Bombardment of Fort Moultrie, November 16, 1863, The Flag of Sumter, October 20, 1863, and Night Bombardment, Dec. 10, 1863, are the best-recognized of his works.  Working in Rome during 1863 and 1864, John Gadsby Chapman used his son’s studies to create finished paintings of Charleston Bay and City, Evening Gun, Fort Sumter, and Battery Beauregard.  The Bombardment of Fort Moultrie is one of the Conrad Chapman’s largest works and is in the collections of the Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, SC. 

While engaged in the series of works that secured Chapman’s reputation, the artist did not forget his own Virginia regiment.  One of the paintings of the Siege of Charleston is Church Flats Camp. Dec. 10 1864, which Chapman in later life described as the camp of Wise’s Brigade and the 59th Virginia Regiment stationed “in the rear of Charleston.”  In truth, the Church Flats camp was south of Charleston on the Stono River and served to block Union incursions from the south.  The perspective of the painting is that of the artist looking across the river toward the camp in the distance.  The thirty-one smaller forts and batteries paintings, including the depiction of Church Flats, are in the collections of the Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia.   The Museum of the Confederacy has created an online exhibition of its paintings with searchable visual features.  

In April 1864 Chapman obtained a six months furlough from his regiment that permitted him to visit his family in Rome and begin an enterprise to convert his sketches and studies into finished works.  He traveled in company with Roman Catholic Bishop Patrick N. Lynch of Charleston, who had been dispatched by Confederate States president Jefferson Davis to represent Confederate interests to Pope Pius IX at the Vatican.   Chapman and Lynch sailed out of Wilmington, North Carolina, slipped past the Union blockading squadron and then made their way to Rome.  Chapman carried with him a considerable bundle of drawings, sketches, and studies from which he and his father labored to turn into finished paintings—a powerful visual “journal of the siege of Charleston.”  Because Chapman and his father created the paintings post facto and in Europe accounts for some of the uncertainties that surround completion dates of several paintings and the publication dates of those that were made into prints.  There can be little doubt that Chapman painted Cavalry Camp of the So. Ca. Halcomb Legion during his sojourn in Rome.  The signature on the front and the dedication to Reverend Lyman on the back of the painting identify clearly the time and place where it was created.

In December 1864 Conrad Chapman began his return to the Confederacy.  Vessels bound for Confederate ports were diminishing in availability as Confederate defeats mounted.  General William T. Sherman had reached Savannah, Georgia, in his “March to the Sea” through Georgia and by February he was pushing his troops into South Carolina.  Chapman finally secured transportation from London on February 9, 1865, on the blockade runner Louisa Anne Fannie.  The voyage was fraught with difficulties, diversions, and delays.  He reached Bermuda in March but was unable to enter any southern ports on the Atlantic or in the Gulf of Mexico.  All had been occupied by Union troops or were tightly blockaded.  Finally, he and his shipmates landed at Bagdad, Mexico on the Rio Grande River, south of Brownsville, Texas.  Despite the collapse of the Confederate Army and the inexorable march of events toward surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in April, Chapman sought to rejoin his comrades in arms.  Unable to return to war-torn Virginia, Chapman waited in Texas until the war ended.  Unreconciled to defeat and unwilling to pledge allegiance to the victorious Union, Conrad chose artistic and political exiles in Mexico, Italy, France, and England for most of his remaining years.  Chapman returned to the United States in 1874 but was an outsider, an “un-reconstructed” ex-Rebel for the rest of his life.  For nearly forty years, until his death in 1910, Chapman traveled between Europe, the United States, and Mexico, actively working as an artist but unable to attain financial security and peace of mind.  Conrad Wise Chapman died on December 10, 1910, at Hampton, Virginia, and was interred with full ex-Confederate military honors. 


Valentine Museum, Conrad Wise Chapman 1842-1910: An Exhibition of His Works in the Valentine Museum (Richmond, Va.: Valentine Museum, 1962)

Museum of the Confederacy.  “Conrad Wise Chapman: A Confederate Soldier’s Paintings of the Defenses of Charleston”:  http://www.moc.org/exhibitions/conrad-wise-chapman-confederate-soldiers-paintings-defenses-charleston?mode=general, accessed August 17, 2014.

Bassham, Ben L. Conrad Wise Chapman Artist and Soldier of the Confederacy (Kent Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1998).

Virginia State Library, Bulletin of the Virginia State Library, Volume 12, nos. 2-3, pp. 77-104,  “Collection of the Paintings, Drawings, Engravings, etc. of John Gadsby Chapman and Conrad Wise Chapman in the Virginia State Library.”

Museum of the Confederacy, Catalogue of the Confederate Museum, of the Confederate Memorial Library Society . . . (Richmond: Ware & Duke, 1905).

Wise, Henry A. “The Career of Wise’s Brigade, 1861-65.” Southern Historical Society Papers, volume 25 (1897): 3-4.

This essay is copyrighted by Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission.

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