The painting on the left is “The Armed Slave” by William Spang, painted in 1870. Officially known as “A Virginia Slave – A Hero of Harpers Ferry,” it is now on display in a new exhibit at Gettysburg National Military Park.
On the right is Spang’s “The Old Veteran,” completed 20 years later. These paintings represent, in vivid color and clarity, the war’s origins and outcomes. To the left, a slave reads calmly and intently, cigar in hand, rifle-musket with bayonet close, ready to take up arms in the fight for freedom in John Brown’s ill-fated 1859 slave uprising. To the right, a veteran, surrounded by the mementos of the war, pays homage to his comrades and his former supreme commander, reflecting on events long past.
The painter William Spang was born in Pennsylvania, and trained as an artist before the war, working in a studio in Philadelphia and exhibiting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He enlisted in the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry in late 1862, serving in the regiment until the end of the war. After the war, he continued to work actively as a painter, commanded Meade Post #2 of the Grand Army of the Republic in Philadelphia, and married his former pupil, Adelaide Paris, when he was 72 (she was 41). Tragically for the couple, he died the following year and was buried in Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Both these paintings and many other works, many by former soldiers, are on display in the exhibit, “With Brush, Mold, Chisel, and Pen: Reflections of Civil War Art” in the Gilder Lehrman gallery of the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. The exhibit opened earlier this summer and features paintings, sculpture and decorative arts from the collections of Gettysburg National Military Park, the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
My thanks to Curator Greg Goodell for his assistance with this post.
Katie Lawhon, Senior Advisor, August 4, 2016