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Posts Tagged ‘Civil War’

I thought for this Memorial Day a replay of the post from this day last year was appropriate and says exactly what I wanted to express this morning. We are living in strange times with a leader with little if any impulse control and a need to achieve his desired outcome regardless of the means needed to do so. I am of the opinion that if push comes to shove ( and with his knack for alienating and shoving, it’s a real possibility) he would not hesitate to spend the lives of  many of our soldiers to protect his interests. And there is a building doubt as to whether his interests are our interests.

I think that is why this Memorial Day takes on special significance. We must remember the horror of war that brought about this holiday and not gloss it over. It was not meant for glorification of war. It was a day of grieving and remembrance of souls taken much too early. Give it a thought today.

Memorial Day weekend.  It’s become the symbolic starting point for summer, a time of barbecues and partying.  Fireworks. In those rare instances when we do take the time to consider the day, many of us tend to think of it in terms of patriotism and nationalism.

But it was created from the loss and sorrow of a civil war that ripped this country and many families apart.  It was meant to alleviate the grief of the many families who suffered the ultimate loss, to let them know that the nation shared their sorrow in the memory of fallen family members.

In the nearby Woodlawn National Cemetery, where my mother, along with both my grandfathers and several uncles, is buried, there is a section that contains the nearly 3000 graves of Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War in the Elmira, NY prison camp.  Whenever I look at those stones and think of those men of the south, I always think about their families who may not have even known that their sons were suffering in a cold Northern prison.  They were mothers, wives or children who would never see or hug their sons and husbands and fathers again. People whose loss forever left a hole in their lives.

And this sacrifice was for what?  An idea, the preservation of an ideology that probably didn’t affect their day to day lives in the first place? The financial interests of the planters and plantation owners, the wealthy ruling class?

Why are we so easily stirred to war, so willing to sacrifice our own kin and their futures?

There are no easy answers.  Maybe that’s why the holiday has transformed into what it is today– it’s too terrible an image to bear when we look in that mirror and ask those questions.

So for this Sunday’s music on a Memorial Day weekend, I thought I’d play a song that asks for peace on earth with the hope that fewer families in the future will have to see this earth absorb the blood of their sons and daughters.  I know that sounds like a pipedream, a world without war.  But I have to ask  myself: Why not peace?

Here’s U2 and Peace on Earth.  Have a great Sunday and a great holiday.

NOTE: The image here on the left is a new painting, The Kinship, that is part of my show that opens this coming Friday, June 2, at the Principle Gallery.  There is a sense of remembrance in this piece for me that jibes with the real spirit of this day.

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Charles C Mulford Grave Alexandria VA National CemeteryI’ve been going to Alexandria, VA, a lovely and historic town that hugs the Potomac River just a few miles below Washington DC, for a long time, often several times a year.  Outside of my link with the Principle Gallery and the relationships that have grown from that, I never thought I had a connection of any sort with that area.

Col. Eleazer Lindsley

Col.Eleazer Lindsley

But, as many of you who read this blog on a regular basis already know, I am an avid genealogist.  I have documented some of my ancestral discoveries in a series of paintings, Icons, like the one shown here on the right, that I hope to get back to soon.  While going through one of my lines earlier this year I came across a great-grand uncle by the name of Charles C. Mulford, who was the great grandson of Colonel Eleazer Lindsley who is shown in the Icon painting on the right.

Mulford was born in nearby Lindley in 1821 and lived a quiet life as a farmer until the Civil War broke out.  Serving for the 6th Regiment of the NY Heavy Artillery, he saw combat in battles at Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor, the Wilderness, Totopotomy and Petersburg.  At the Battle of Petersburg, Mulford was shot in the upper  thigh and, during his hospitalization, contracted typhus and died in early July of 1864.

It was the same tragic ending that many of my ancestors met while serving this country.  But the interesting detail in the account was that he had died in Alexandria at the Fairfax Seminary hospital and was buried in the National Cemetery not too far from the gallery.

So Friday morning when I went out for coffee at a local cafe that I frequent when I am  in town I decided to seek out my great-grand uncle.  Under threatening skies, I strolled the few blocks to the cemetery that is tucked quietly among neighborhoods filled with townhouses.  It only took a few moments to find the grave, sitting in the first row facing a  stone wall.

The marble headstone was well weathered as you can see at the top of the page.  I stood there for quite a while.  I wondered if any others had looked closely at that stone in recent years, had uttered the name over that grave.

It’s a small thing but just standing in front of that stone for  a few minutes was very calming for me, especially on the day of an opening when I am normally very anxious.  Just knowing that he and I shared a tiny bit of DNA and a common beginning had meaning for me, connecting to me to my family, our history as a nation and to Alexandria, as well.  I felt like I belonged in so many ways.

And there was great peace in that moment.

So, besides the many paintings that I know populate the homes of Alexandria and the friends that I have made there, a small part of my past will always reside in that city.  I finally feel truly connected there.

Some extra info:  Charles Mulford was the first cousin of  General John E. Mulford (my first cousin 6 generations removed) who was President Lincoln‘s  Commissioner of Exchange which meant that he arranged for the exchange of prisoners during the war.  He is shown below in uniform in a photo from Matthew Brady.Gen John E. Mulford Matthew Brady Photo Richmond VA

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GC Myers- Icon-MartinI thought I had put the Icon series on hold for a bit as I moved more heavily into the work for my upcoming shows in June and July.  But the other day I just had an itch to jump quickly into one of the ancestors who remains prominent but a bit of a mystery for me.  It was painted quickly without hardly any dawdling over it and by the time it was blocked out in the red oxide paint that I use for my underpainting it felt like it was coming to life.

The painting is a 12″ by 12″ canvas that is titled Icon: Martin P.  It is my depiction of my 3rd great-grandfather, a man born in Canada sometime around 1800.  I have seen his birth year listed as 1798, 1800 and 1802.  His name is also somewhat up for debate.  It has come down through time as the anglicized Martin Perry but I have seen the last name listed  as the French-based Paré, Parent and Poirer.  He was of French-Canadian descent, that is without dispute.  Outside of this and a few other facts, there is little else to go on besides assumptions that can be gleaned from what little is known and rumors from the family that remains in the far north of New York state, near the Canadian border.

For instance, there is no known record of the name of his wife, my 3rd great-grandmother.  I have heard rumors from the family there that she was a maiden from the Mohawk tribe that occupied a reservation in the area where Martin came to live but there is no evidence of this, either in records or in DNA.  I have heard from a professional genealogist who ran into this dead-end and was unsuccessful in uncovering anything.

Martin was not known to be a farmer though his children all ended up as such.  He was rumored to have been a coureur des bois, literally a wood’s runner or woodsman,  which was basically a frontier figure who lived as a hunter and sometime guide.  In the few records I can find from his later life, he is listed simply as a laborer, no doubt at a time when the idea of being a woodsy, especially an old one, was on the decline in the quickly settling areas of the east.

But one thing I do know is that he must have been a tough old man.  At the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in late 1861, along with son of the same name, at the age of 60 years old.  He served in the 98th New York Infantry and in the following year, saw action at the Battle of Williamsburg and the the Battle of Seven Pines. which was at that time, early in the Civil War, the largest conflict of the campaign.

I don’t know how he came through it all except to note that he was mustered out later that year, 1862, due to disability.  The idea of a 60 year old man marching a thousand or so miles and fighting in battles that were often at close range seems pretty wild in these times but I don’t think it was such for a man raised in the northern wilds.  He would have been used to tough conditions, to wet and cold and a spartan lifestyle.  For him to have been pulled from the conflict points to a real injury, illness or wound of some sort.

I have yet to find the date of his death.  Records in that time and place are often iffy at best but I continue to search.

So, in my depiction of Martin Perry I see him as that coureur des bois, bearded and dressed in buckskin.  From what I can tell, he lived on the fringes of the civilized world  with a foot always in the wild.

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GC Myers- Icon: Joe H.Here’s my latest entry into the Icon series, a 12″ by 12″ canvas piece that is titled Icon: Joe H.  He is my 3rd great-grandfather and his name was Joseph Harris and he was born in the Lindley (the town named after our common ancestor, Eleazer Lindsley,who was among the first Icons) area south of Corning in 1833.

He led a fairly typical life for the time and place, serving in the Civil War and raising a family.  He worked primarily as a blacksmith and a sawyer ( I have a lot of lumbermen in my family– maybe that’s where my affinity for trees comes from) in his early years, working for a number of years in the then booming timber business that was taking place in northern Pennsylvania and western NY.   It was there that his wife, Emeline Whitney, died just a year or so after the end of the Civil War.  Later in his life, he returned to the area of his birth, settling in as a farmer  just over the border in Pennsylvania where he died in 1922.

That was about the extent of his life for me, at least what I could find of it in records.  I did discover that he married his step-sister, Jennie, who was twenty years younger, as his second wife.  But it was my research into local newspapers that gave me a better sense of him.

Looking at records gave no indication of anything but the basics but in his 1922 death notice printed in the Wellsboro Agitator ( I love the name of that paper!) the headline lists him as a “Skilled and Noted Musician.”  It goes on to say that he had been the one-time Banjo Champion of the United States.  He very well may have picked up the banjo from his Civil War experience as it’s popularity in the time after the war is often attributed to many people being exposed to it for the first time during their service.  I could never find anything to document a championship which was no big surprise as it most likely occurred somewhere in the 1870’s or 1880’s and whatever group sanctioned the competition is more than likely no longer in existence.

But I was pleased to know that music played a big part in his life and I later found an item that confirmed this.  It stated that his son, William Harris, was working as a musician in one of the  oilfield boom towns in northern PA in the 1890’s when he tragically took his own life by shooting himself at the hotel where he was living.  As is often the case, you find a lot of tragedy when you look backwards so it’s some consolation to know that there was a bit of music and joy mixed in there somewhere.

I did visit Joe’s gravesite a while back.  It is a bare-boned and flat plot of land that sits next to a harsh little trailer park visible from the new interstate.  Standing at his grave you looked into the backyard of several trailers, the kind of yards scattered with kids toys, spare tires and oil drums.

It made me a little sad but then, I guess a guy who lived through the Civil War, endured the death of his first wife and several of his children before him and lived to see the first World War, this wasn’t all that bad.

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GC Myers- Icon- Peter the ScoundrelThis painting, a new 24″ by 20″ canvas, is titled Icon: Peter the Scoundrel.  This may not be my favorite painting from the Icon series that I’ve been working on as of late but this has been by far the hardest piece for me to complete.  It just kept going and going and I completely repainted the head and face at least six different times.  Each face never felt right and I could not get a handle on how I wanted to portray the person behind this painting.

Actually, I could never get a handle on this person, period.

His name was Peter Bundy, my 3rd great grandfather and he is buried in an old cemetery in Caton, just outside of Corning.  It’s a cemetery that I knew well from my childhood, having spent a lot of time with my favorite cousin in Caton.  In fact, my cousin worked in the cemetery as a teen, digging graves by hand.  I never knew at the time how many ancestors of mine were buried right there but doing research on my family lines I found that there were dozens and dozens of relatives there including  this Peter Bundy.

His grave stone says that he was born in Scotland in 1823 and served in the Civil War with the Ohio 75th Regiment.  Doing a bit of research I found a veteran’s pension record from the 1890’s that stated he had been captured and held at the infamous Andersonville Prison Camp.  That same record listed him as having an aliasCharles McKinney.  My mind began to imagine that perhaps he was a Union spy.

If only it could have been that simple.

A few years passed and one day I had a message about my family line on the Ancestry site.  It was from a family who had done research on their family line and had found that my gr-grandfather Peter Bundy was also their gr-grandfather.  Except that he had a different wife and a different name– Levi McProuty.  It turns out that my Peter Bundy held that name and married  under it in the years before the Civil War.   Living in western Steuben County, they had two children, a boy and two girls, before he ostensibly left in 1861 to serve in the Union army.  A year or so later, his wife was informed somehow that he had been killed in combat.

She and her children never saw him again.

It seems that in the year that he was gone, he had shed the name of Levi McProuty,  married my 3rd great-grandmother, Elizabeth Everetts, and had a child, my 2nd gr-grandmother.  While he may not have even served in the war as Levi McProuty, he did leave for service in the Civil War as Peter Bundy.  He returned to his second wife and child.

However, for the next twenty or so years, he didn’t show up in any public records.  But his wife and child did– his wife under the name of McKinney and his daughter under her married name.  He showed up in some veterans’ pension records  and the census before dying in 1901.  His wife died in 1915.  Both were listed under the Bundy name.

I don’t know if this is clearly written so that you can follow it– I know that it is so convoluted that I have trouble keeping it straight in my head.

So, was he really Peter Bundy or Levi McProuty?  Or Charles McKinney?  Or somebody completely different?  Was he even born in Scotland?  I find myself thinking that he may not have even served in the war, that he may have stolen the identities of other soldiers.  How he ended up serving in an Ohio regiment– Ohio being several hundred miles away– is another question that comes to mind.  Was his time at Andersonville just another lie? I don’t know if anything that is considered factual about this person is indeed real except for the fact that this person, my great-great-great grandfather, lived for a time and died in Caton–that’s on his gravestone.

And that he was a scoundrel.  That is not on his stone.

I think it’s this doubt that fed the troubles I had with this painting.  I could never see a face or a facial expression that suited this person because I never had an idea of his truth.  And just when I thought I would have a sense of him, there was always a new twist with which to contend.  When I had the different faces on this figure I felt a lot of discontent and anxiety, even waking up in my sleep thinking about it.

So yesterday morning, I came into the studio and decided to just simply put him in a mask.   A grinning, mocking mask that let’s me know that I don’t really know him and I doubt that I ever will.

 

 

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Civil War Soldier DageurrotypeMemorial Day weekend.  I’m no historical anthropologist so I can’t be completely certain when I say that I don’t believe there is any one group of people on this planet who have not been touched by war in some significant way. The history of this world has been written in the bloody ink of war.

A few years back, when I began doing genealogy for the families of my wife and myself, I was surprised at the many, many generations in each line who had taken part in the wars of their times, putting their lives aside to give so much of themselves– in some cases, their very lives– for causes that often might have been mere abstractions to them.

Part of me is proud that these people have answered the call to be a small part in something bigger.  But another part of me is simply sad to think that they were called on to give so much in  order to satisfy or deny the baser motives of those in power.  War has usually been about greed and acquisition, nationalistic pride or ethnic and religious hatred– in each instance proposed with the greatest conviction and certainty by the leaders of each side of the cause.

And on Memorial Day, we remember the people who actually fulfilled the pleas of these leaders, be they right or wrong.  These citizens did what they were asked and what they felt was necessary in their time and place.  And I have nothing but respect for that.

For today’s image, I chose the daguerreotype of the Civil War soldier at the top because there was something in him that seemed to show the sacrifice of war.  Maybe it’s the steely stare of his eyes.  Or maybe it was his belt that is cinched in to what looks to be a ridiculously tiny diameter, showing how emaciated he appears to be.  I’m not exactly sure but there is something in him that seems contemporary, less dated.

And for today’s Sunday musical selection, I have chosen the song Ben McCulloch from Steve Earle.  It tells the story of two brothers who enlist in the Confederate Army in the Civil War and discover the hard realities of war as they serve under General McCulloch, who was a real person who died in battle in 1862.  The chorus probably echos the sentiments of many soldiers through time for their commanding officers as they face overwhelming odds.

So have a great Sunday and a Memorial Day filled with some appreciation of what the day really encompasses.

 

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The-Best-Years-of-Our-Lives-  Dana WinterVeteran’s Day is coming up and I thought I might have an image that somewhat represents the experience of some vets on their return home.  In the 1946 movie, The Best Years of Our Lives, Dana Andrews‘ character, Fred, struggles on his return to his hometown and comes across a local airfield where they are junking old war planes from the recently ended World War II.  He crawls into an old B-17 bomber and takes his former seat in the front turret of the plane where he was a nose gunner.  He vividly relives for a brief moment the terror that was still haunting him, tainting every moment of his life.  The haunting image of Andrews appearing ghost-like in the nose of that B-17 is a powerful one in a movie filled with powerful scenes, one that doesn’t sugarcoat the experiences and hardships of the returning vets.  It remains relevant to this very day.

I thought for this Sunday’s musical interlude, I would play something in the spirit of this upcoming holiday.  It would be easy enough to play something patriotic but this isn’t really a holiday of nationalism and a call to arms.   No, this is a holiday that celebrates an end to war , namely World War I when the holiday was originated as Armistice Day, and honors the service of all soldiers with the hope that they will soon return home and resume their lives there.  This holiday honors those who have served and sacrificed so much, not the wars to which they are sent.

The song is Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya which is the original tune on which the Civil War era  song When Johnny Comes Marching Home is based.  While When Johnny Comes Marching Home is more celebratory and martial in tone, Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya is pointedly anti-war and mournful.  It was supposedly written in the 1790′s as a protest to the British imperialist invasion of Ceylon, present day Sri Lanka.  It tells of a young woman seeing her lover , who left her after their illegitimate child was born to join the army,  returning from war.  He is much changed in appearance and she mourns for his loss.

This is a very emotional version of the song from British opera and folk singer Benjamin Luxon accompanied by American Bill Crofut on banjo.  Have a great Sunday and gives some thought to the men and women who have given their time and their selves to serving their countries.  Let’s vow to treat them better.

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