- The Memorial Art and Architecture of Vicksburg National Military Park by Michael W. Panhorst
If the Battle of Gettysburg represented the heart and soul of the Civil War, then the Battle of Vicksburg showed its sinew and muscle. The pivotal struggle, lasting as it did from May 18 to July 4, 1863, and capped by a forty-seven-day siege of the city by Major General Ulysses S. Grant, was nothing less than the military turning point of the war, and a turning point in Grant’s fortunes. Vicksburg convinced President Abraham Lincoln that Grant was his man, culminating in Grant’s subsequent elevation to General-in-Chief of the Union armies. Grant, meanwhile, was ably assisted in his Mississippi campaign by Major [End Page 89] General William T. Sherman who, significantly and portentously for the Confederacy, agreed with Grant in all matters of strategy and tactics. Opposing them both was Confederate Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, a Pennsylvania Quaker who had gone over to the South’s side. Pemberton’s numerous mistakes at Vicksburg initiated the beginning of the end for “the Cause” by weakening Confederate leadership from President Jefferson Davis on down.
Michael W. Panhorst’s Memorial Art and Architecture of Vicksburg National Military Park is a thoughtfully conceived and lavishly executed exploration and commemoration of the art dedicated to “the courage and selfless devotion of the 100,000 soldiers and sailors from 29 states who fought for months to control Vicksburg and the Mississippi River” (5). The execution of this memorial art began in earnest during the late 1890s and continues to the present day. The book examines the history of the creation, installation, and preservation of the Park’s many monuments; the artists and craftsmen who produced these; the techniques used to execute them; and the plans for their erection and maintenance. In addition, Panhorst offers an illustrated driving tour so that this volume also serves as a guidebook in the truest sense. As such, he includes dozens of illustrations and photographs that collectively are a real eye-opener for someone who has never visited Vicksburg. The appendices are also quite revealing. They provide a glossary of artistic and architectural terms, along with generous biographical sketches of artists, architects, foundries, and monument companies. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a more comprehensive or carefully produced book on this subject.
Among many noteworthy sections are the pages devoted to the work of Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson (1876-1932) “who competed successfully in the almost exclusively male world of monumental sculpture in the United States in the early twentieth century” (45). Kitson produced a total of fifty-two reliefs and nineteen busts for Vicksburg, far more than anyone else. One of her pieces, Volunteer, was reproduced ten times and displayed across the country from New England to California. Kitson attained national and international notoriety at a time when women faced significant and relentless obstacles to a career in the arts. Panhorst’s biographical sketch of Kitson, featured in Appendix B, manifests her status and stature as a true artistic pioneer.
Other talented sculptors and artists produced monuments that chillingly depict the abject terror of warfare and the ferocity of the [End Page 90] Battle of Vicksburg especially. The General Lloyd Tilghman Monument captures the instant that the Confederate general received a mortal bullet wound (59). Tilghman extends his arms in agony, holding his sword upward, while his horse rears back from the shock of the blow. This bronze in particular serves as a vivid and powerful reminder that Vicksburg claimed the lives of men of all ranks and reputations. The Cavalry portion of the Wisconsin Monument, meanwhile, shows the urgency of being called upon to make split-second, life-or-death decisions (19). A cavalryman leaps from his dying horse in order to confront and return fire at his opponent. And the relief panels of the Iowa Monument portray with unrelenting accuracy and detail Union soldiers aiding and comforting their dying comrades (50). There is...