[Guest post by Debora Grosse in Georgia, USA]
I caught the history sketching bug on a trip to Gettysburg in 2013. Thousands of secular pilgrims gathered to honor those who had fought on the site 150 years earlier. Countless volunteers, like these reenactors above from North Carolina, brought the Civil War to life. I returned home very excited. The sesquicentennial would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to follow the progress of the war near my home in Atlanta. As often as I could, I visited the sites of significant events on their anniversaries. Though I knew little about the war when I began, the storyline became clear when I saw the geography and experienced the timing of events.
|Marietta, Georgia. November 2014|
Reenactors are an ideal sketching subject. It’s urban sketcher heaven to encounter picturesque people who welcome being sketched and who regale you with true stories while you draw. They enjoy sharing their knowledge with anyone who's interested, like the boy in the picture above. He has just been dressed in a uniform and is now being taught about weapons.
|Andersonville, Georgia. March 2014|
The war was personalized for me as I got to know individuals who had participated. This reenactor represents Thomas Sylvanus, who, like my great-great-grandfather’s cousin, was held as a prisoner of war in the notorious camp at Andersonville. Unlike my cousin, Corporal Sylvanus survived, but the miserable conditions caused him to lose his sight.
|Cartersville, Georgia. November 2014|
Not every historic milestone had an organized commemoration. It can be just as much fun to represent the past through a sketch of a modern scene. When I visited the antebellum railroad depot in Cartersville, I was delighted to find a fire truck parked in front of it. The fire truck was there for a church-sponsored festival that had nothing to do with the war, but it made an appropriate symbol for the events of November 1864. Too bad it wasn’t around 150 years ago when Cartersville and other towns really needed it.
A side benefit of anniversary sketching is that it trains you to accept your mistakes and move on. There is only one opportunity to draw a 150th anniversary. Chances are you’ll be the only sketcher present, so whatever you produce, regardless of flaws, will be the best urban sketch ever made to record the event.
|Smyrna, Georgia. July 2014|
My immersion in the war gave me a new appreciation for the land: the mountains, the rivers, and especially the railroads that were so vital to cities and armies. This landscape shows the view from a little park where the remains of Confederate earthworks still exist. Here the soldiers waited with their backs to the Chattahoochee River, the final natural barrier defending Atlanta from the approaching Union army.
|Henry County, Georgia. August 2014|
When we sketch history, what we actually see is what those events mean now. After 150 years, the war still means a lot to Americans. These spectators at a cavalry raid reenactment are members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. These two men memorialize their ancestors by reenacting, but today they’re wearing “Mechanized Cavalry” motorcycle club vests with the SCV’s Confederate battle flag logo prominently displayed across the backs.
|Selma, Alabama. March 2015|
The war settled the questions of union and slavery, but, except for a brief postwar period, the Federal government didn’t try to enforce full rights of citizenship for the former slaves in the South. A century later, nonviolent armies of men, women, and children waged a series of campaigns to end legal segregation and to secure the right to vote. The 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement has provided another opportunity for real-time, real-place history sketching.
Debora Grosse is a software engineer in Atlanta, Georgia. Debora traveled from Chickamauga in northwest Georgia to Savannah in the southeast, with side trips to Andersonville, Columbus, and Franklin, Tennessee. She made over 90 sketches related to the Civil War over 2 years. To see more, visit her Flickr albums here.