Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Southern Bias?

Letter from a fan:

I'm a Civil War addict from the UK and an admirer of Mr Kunstler's Civil War art. It really seems to evoke a true feeling of key events/battles and with the obvious attention to detail, you do get the impression that you're really there.

One thing that strikes me is the concentration on Southern subjects, particularly Lee & Jackson, and an apparent interest in 'Lost Cause' romanticism. I think Mr Kunstler was born in New York, so I'm fascinated to know what inspires this leaning towards The South? I think someone once said that although the Southern soldiers were good fighters, 'it was the worst cause for which anyone ever fought'. However, as someone from the UK, (and with no US/Southern heritage) I must say that I also seem inexplicably drawn to the South. Perhaps it's the enigmatic military leaders? The victories inspired by Lee and Jackson often against a vastly numerically superior enemy never cease to amaze me. Perhaps the amazing fortitude shown, particularly in the latter part of the war? The nobility and honour of the Southern gentleman? Many were not slave-holders but still fought for a cause they believed in.

Although I'm sure it's not very PC these days to admire people who essentially fought to preserve an evil institution, I guess they were 'men of their time' and can't be entirely judged by today's standards. I would be really interested to understand Mr. Kunstler's point of view on this, and why he also shares this apparent Southern bias'?.

Mr. Künstler's response:

Mr. Künstler does not use a computer, so he has asked me to respond to your kind email. He appreciated your observations and had this to say...

First, while he has done at least one Union picture every year, he admits that the Confederacy is much more fun to paint. The more prosperous Union soldiers were all dressed the same, and in a lineup they all looked the same. In contrast, the Confederate soldiers were a rag tag bunch. They all dressed differently and this makes for more interesting images and subjects to paint.

Secondly, during the preparation of several of Mr. Künstler's Civil War art books ("Images of the Civil War", "Gettysburg," and "Jackson and Lee,") he became acquainted with, and later a good friend of, the foremost Jackson biographer, historian James Robertson. This partnership has helped make Mort Künstler the "visual biographer" of Jackson and Lee.


  1. As a born & bred Kentuckian, which was a state so divided and had so many family members torn apart and serving against each other, I found my interest also sliding toward the Dixie line. And as an admirer of Mr. Kunstler and his beautiful work, I have seen that the subjects and places in history he paints seem so real to me. I have always been more interested in American history, and especially the Civil War. This has evolved into my search for ancestors and their stories. Now living in Maryland, in the heart of so much American history, I can see his reality in his work. And, yes, the Southern army was much more colorful and unusual, hence, much better subjects.

  2. It is often said Southerners were defending an evil institution. However like many who fought in many other wars, most fought in defence of their homeland. Most southerners that died on the battlefields of Gettysburg and Antietam were too poor to embrace plantation life, but understood the notion of honor, family and tradition. It is also often overlooked that there were many Southern sympathizers north of the Mason Dixon Line and it had little to do with the preservation of slavery.

  3. "The Gettysburg speech is at once the shortest and the most famous oration in American history. Put beside it, all the whoopings of the Websters, Sumners and Everetts seem gaudy and silly. It is eloquence brought to a pellucid and almost child-like perfection—the highest emotion reduced to one graceful and irresistible gesture. Nothing else precisely like it is to be found in the whole range of oratory. Lincoln himself never even remotely approached it. It is genuinely stupendous.

    But let us not forget that it is oratory, not logic; beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it! Put it into the cold words of everyday! The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination — “that government of the people, by the people, for the people,” should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in that battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves. What was the practical effect of the battle of Gettysburg? What else than the destruction of the old sovereignty of the States, i. e., of the people of the States? The Confederates went into battle an absolutely free people; they came out with their freedom subject to the supervision and vote of the rest of the country—and for nearly twenty years that vote was so effective that they enjoyed scarcely any freedom at all. Am I the first American to note the fundamental nonsensicality of the Gettysburg address? If so, I plead my aesthetic joy in it in amelioration of the sacrilege."

    - By M.L. Mencken, regarded as one of the most influential American writers of the first half of the 20th century

    From “Five Men at Random,” Prejudices: Third Series, 1922, pp. 171-76.

  4. As a native New Yorker (and I still live in SOUTHERN New York) and a Confederate historian, reenactor and author, my interest in and support for the Confederacy is simple. They were RIGHT!!! Without going into a lot of detail (I would be here all day!!!) The Confederacy's major leaders, ie: Lee, Jackson, Stuart, Gordon, Polk, D.H. Hill, Hood Cleburne, Bragg, Davis and countless others were all born-again Christians, which for me, is their most important attribute.I am a proud member of the Friends of the Sons of Confederate Veterans where I have proudly earned membership in the Bonnie Blue Flag Society for my article in the Citizen's Companion about Confederate chaplains, and a member of the Guardian Program. I have a few relatives who fought for the Union and no disrespect to them, the South was simply defending itself from an invasion ordered by a tyrannical government and nothing else.

  5. There is a poignant observation in the passage referring to the fact of the Southern armies being rag-tag while the more prosperous Northern armies being better armed, and outfitted. One has to ponder how then, were a group of people who were decidedly not wealthy fighting to preserve an institution the overwhelming majority would never be able to benefit from. I think there is a part of it that many in the modern era realize the root of the fight, and the motivations of the soldier go much deeper than one simple and easy answer. To say the Southern armies fought in order to preserve the institution is likened to saying the German soldier fought like the Furies in Russia in order to wipe out the Jewish population of the world. No, a simple answer just isn't accurate. The Confederate soldier did not march to war in order to preserve the institution and the Northern soldier did not march to war in order to eradicate the institution. Even though there are the inevitable exceptions in the Law of Population Distribution, the examples of those who did do not change the emotions of the majority. And I think that is where the fascination is, it is because we have so little conversation about what they really marched to war about.

  6. Let me be the first to say respectfully that I was hopeful for a more verbose and revealingly more insightful answer from Mr. Kunstler. This fan's excellent question was one that got me thinking of how I would answer it myself as I share the same sort of sentiments as the writer, and I'm sure Mr. Kunstler as well. The answer for me is one that would take up much more space than is proper here, and I'm sure had something to do with Mr. Kunstler's reply as well. Shortly I'd have to say that for me the appeal of the south is two fold. One is a natural tendency and desire to side with the under dog. The other is that during the Civil War conflict both sides fought with a valor supported by their beliefs in a life lived in freedom. One side fighting for the freedoms they strongly felt was theirs to defend. A way of life free from the interventions of another's imposition's. The other fighting for the freedoms of those who were not able to free themselves. The "south" simply had more character and style points to it's image and overall range of human appeal. I believe partly because of the fact that the south was comprised of both the fighter's and the victims, as well as the debaters. Participants and purveyors. Supporters and detractors within the same ranks at all levels. I also believe that it is commonly supported that the south was intensely more passionate and therefor more inclined to the imaginations of those like us who are enthralled that with all things pertaining to that great American struggle known as the Civil War.

  7. My GGgrandfather was Captain Stephen Alpheastus Corker. My grandmother taught me about her grandfather who led the 3rd Georgia charge at Gettysburg. I have been researching his letters which were donated to the University of Georgia special collections library by my second cousin. I am writing a book about the letters. They tell the tale of the Southern solider and the mindset of the Southern Cause. Corker owned slaves and mentioned two periodically in the Letters. Their names were Sam and Elbert. The letters start in 1859 and go through 1872. I really appreciate Mr. Kunstler's work and purchase his calendar each year. My brother recently bought me a framed print of one of Mr. Kunslter's works and it hangs in the entrance of my 1873 National Register historic home, The Hardy Smith House, built by Captain Hardy Smith who lost his right arm at the battle of Mechanicsville. My blog on the restoration is here. http://hardysmithhouse.blogspot.com/.

    To the point of the comment regarding the supposed bias towards the South I also own print number 2000/2000 of the official State of Georgia 200th anniversary print done by Jon Tourchen. Jon was from New York and the print shows Robert E Lee with a portion of the Confederate Flag on the print. Jon too was drawn to the Southern Cause. The print was a gift to me due to my passion for the South and my efforts to preserve the memory of our ancestors and their cause.

    The cause is mentioned in Corker's letters. From Camp Georgia Roanoke Island
    N.C. Oct. 1, 1861. "You must not grieve for me but remember my dear Peg you are a Christian & I feel assured we will meet in a better world – And I could not give my life to a better cause than the defense of our Country"

    And that to me says it all!



All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Knstler, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright 2001-2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.