A Civil War Find
by Clayton Pennington
You don’t need to go to Antiques Roadshow for a great find. Just ask Leo Oaks of Grants Pass, Oregon, and he’ll confirm, it can happen anywhere.According to Oaks, four years ago several pickers he described as “hippie types” were hired to clean out an old shed in Josephine County, Oregon. They were told they could have whatever they wanted.
The pickers found a 16 7/8 inches x 23 7/8 inches oil on canvas face up in the shed’s rafters. Though it was filthy, they planned to take it to a secondhand shop where they frequently sold things.
Oaks intercepted them and bought the painting for the princely sum of $25. The canvas was loose, and there was a piece of corrugated board jammed in the stretcher. (Oaks knows corrugated board. He worked for 40 years as a shift supervisor in a wood products plant that produced plywood.) For a year after he bought it, the painting sat dirty and untouched
“The image was so familiar, maybe because I have so many Civil War books,” said Oaks. “I didn’t recognize the monogram.”
When Oaks eventually took the backboard off, he discovered, written on the back, “Camp of the 3rd Kent., nr. Corinth, Miss. May 11th 1862. Painted by C.W. Chapman Co. D.”
C.W. Chapman was Conrad Wise Chapman, an artist well known for his Civil War pictures and Mexican landscape scenes. Oaks said that the writing on the back is in Chapman’s own hand. Oaks knew it was a find of some importance. “I said, `God Darn, that’s him!’ Then I got excited,” said Oaks. “I’ll tell you, my hair stood up.” He took the painting to a West Coast restorer who cleaned it up and repaired a small hole.
Not only was it a rare find, but it is the image that made Chapman famous. This particular scene provided the basis for a widely published print by Louis Zimmer, Confederate Camp During the Late American War. From the Original Painting by C.W. Chapman, Ordnance Sergeant, 59th Virginia Regiment, Wise’s Brigade.
There are differences, other than the two state regiments cited, between the print and the original work of art. One notable difference is that Chapman included a self-portrait as the solitary soldier leaning on a rifle in the lower left. In the print, he is shown talking with a water carrier.
Chapman was born in Washington, D.C., in 1842, second son of the artist John Gadsby Chapman. The elder Chapman was already well respected, especially for his oil on canvas The Baptism of Pocahontas, placed in 1840 in the United States Capitol rotunda. In 1848 the family moved to Europe, trying several cities before taking up residence in Rome. While in Europe, John Chapman taught both his sons, Conrad and John Linton, to paint.
When news of the Civil War reached Rome, Conrad rushed to join the Confederacy. Unable to get to Virginia, he enlisted in a Kentucky regiment. During the battle of Shiloh, he suffered a serious head injury. “Some people think he shot himself,” said Oaks. The fierce fight at Shiloh happened on April 6 and 7, 1862. Both sides suffered major losses; the North lost 13,047 men, the South, 10,694. After the battle, Confederate forces retreated to Corinth, Mississippi, the site of the painting.
*Note Leo Oaks is friend. Thanks Leo for letting me share your story. 🙂 VF
You can read full article at the link below. Thanks to the Maine Antique Digest for letting us share the story.