Having devoted several years working on a book about Ambrose Bierce and the Civil War and spending the last several months wrapping things up on that project–which has included combing archives and other resources for appropriate illustrations–it caught my attention when I read in the news about a newly restored mural of the Battle of Resaca by noted Civil War artist James Walker. Lt. Bierce fought at Resaca and wrote about it in a short story, so the mural is of more than passing interest to me.
James Walker is probably best known for the giant mural The Battle of Lookout Mountain (1874) which, if you have read any pictorial history of the war, you have undoubtedly seen it printed in one version or another. James Walker was actually English by birth but his family emigrated to the United States and settled in upstate New York when he was five. During the Mexican American War he was trapped in Mexico City during the siege and escaped to American lines. He was the only artist present in Mexico to witness the war, so his painting The Battle of Chapultepec is thus unique in being based on personal experience of that war. In the 1870’s he opened a studio in California where he did western paintings and paintings of the Mexican culture of old California, but he is best know for several paintings famous Civil War events.
As a military artist, Walker was known to spend long hours at the sites of Civil War battles and to interview survivors, so his work is renown for its detail and accuracy. The Battle of Lookout Mountain was a commission from General Hooker to publicize the general’s victory there. Now we have word from the New York State Military Museum that a long forgotten gem in their possession, Walker’s The Battle of Resaca, has undergone cleaning and restoration and is ready for display. Unfortunately, they have no place to display it, the museum wall space being already chock full and the painting is a large scale mural measuring 12 by 5 feet.
The Resaca mural has itself had a long strange journey. It originally hung in the Columbus Avenue Armory in Manhattan, home to the 12th New York Regiment, which was part of Hooker’s command during the Late Unpleasantness. When that became a victim of NYC’s incessant destruction of its architectural heritage it was shunted first to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, then to West Point, then to the state capitol and then to a few regional armories in upstate New York and finally ending up at the state’s Military Museum in Saratoga, New York. Along the way it was misidentified as portraying the Battle of Gettysburg (Walker did paint that battle as well). Now the Resaca mural is all dolled up with no place to go. I daresay the folks near Resaca in Georgia could easily find some wall space to display it, especially now that the battlefield has been dedicated as a state historic site.
For more on the Civil War, see The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War. My newest book, Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife, should be out later this year.