It's About Time
The Sculpting of the General James Longstreet Memorial
by Gary Casteel

I. The Design
II. The Maquette
III. The Enlargement
IV. The Final Sculpting
V. Epilogue
The Design
Equestrian. A man and a horse. General James Longstreet and his horse Hero on the field at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863. What would they have in common? How did they work in concert to fulfill their respective duties? But, most importantly, how would I design a figurative piece to relay to the visitor of this hallowed ground, the answers to these questions? A chal-lenge, I admit, but one I was more than willing to accept.
I began my course of research by visiting the battlefield and studying all the equestrians erected to honor Union Generals Meade, Hancock, Howard, Reynolds, Sedgwick and Slocum as well as the Virginia state monument containing the portrait of General R. E. Lee seated on Traveler. While I considered Gettysburg to be an important beginning, I did not view it as the only study area. Beautifully sculpted figures of horse and rider also existed in cities such as Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Richmond, Mem-phis and Atlanta. Then I needed to consider battlefield sites such as Manassas, Vicksburg and others containing the venerated equestrians.
With this information amassed in my project file, I made one last attempt to complete the task, and that was to locate myriad references to the grand equestrians of Europe - the kings, conquerors, and warriors sitting atop their powerful steeds of ages past, sculpted by artists commissioned to create alikeness in clay and cast in bronze. Truly, this was the beginning of the equestrian design. I, too, was commissioned, and like the earlier sculptors, I wished to create a powerful figure in bronze to stir the imagi-nation of the viewer. I wanted to relay a sense of duty and honor General James Longstreet exhibited during his military career and civilian life, as well as dignity, compassion and dedication to life whether living under the Confederate States or the United States flag.
In the studio I began to research Longstreet himself. I leafed through book after book in an effort to find those photographs of the General repre-senting the war years.
Beyond the studio, my contacts ranged from the Museum of the Confederacy to The Carlisle War College collection of Civil War photographs to private collectors. After a lengthy search, I found three images. Only one of the photographs showed him with a hat, a kepi. The uniform he wore in the full figure shot was an Austrian frock, a coat shorter than the French design so frequently seen in photographs of the period.
With the investigation complete, I discovered that virtually no personal items once belonging to the General existed. A fire at his hotel in Gainsville, Georgia, during the late nineteenth century destroyed almost everything he owned including his personal papers, uniforms and weapons. There-fore, the design would be determined through written contemporary battle-field accounts of what he was wearing that momentous day and the re-quirements of the National Park Service in an effort to conform with other equestrians on the Gettysburg battlefield.
I began making thumbnail sketches of the piece and fine-tuning the overall design. Finally, I completed a dozen ideas ranging from a simple bust to a figure on a plaza to the ultimate horse and rider, an equestrian. Each idea had its own particular heroic quality expressing the Longstreet theme. In the end, after meetings with the National Park Service review group, the proposed designs were rejected and drawings were produced at the conference table with the final design being an equestrian represent-ing Longstreet as an appropriately dressed and mounted Confederate staff officer. The approved design included a slouch hat instead of the kepi, and a French frock instead of the Austrian short coat.
The most important part of the design, however, was that the memorial- was to have no pedestal. All other equestrians on the field at Gettysburg had the usual pedestal of stone with the appropriate bronze tablets. The Longstreet memorial was to have none of these. Lee's Old War Horse was to stand alone, on the ground at eye level, among the trees and under-growth. This was definitely different, but James Longstreet was an unusual soldier, if not a modern soldier for his era, in the strategy he tried to recom-mend to the high command of the Confederacy before July 3. The chal-lenge of the piece now took on a new dimension in that I had to deal with the image at eye level and with a consideration to possible vandalism.
In my youth, I was reared with ideals of heroes such as Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Robert E. Lee, George Patton. As I became a young adult, I added to my mental list Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Shakespeare, Conan Doyle and my brother Keith (Ben). Now as a middle aged man with more than half a century of experience, living in an age of hero deterioration and downfall, I choose my icons with more widso,. I now look for those qualities I admire most and by which a true hero lives: commitment to the duty of life, fairness to our fellow man, a passion for life's work and most of all, dedication to what they believe in. To my illustrious list of heroes, I have added Mother Theresa, Robert Front, my mother and father, and General James Longstreet.
My point of view has always been that heroes are larger than life. They are to be physically and mentally looked up to. Consider the equestrians of Gettysburg. The viewer stands in the shadows of a towering pedestal topped with a monumental scale horse and rider. It is as though we are not to get close to the honored individual. One can only look up and search for the soul of the venerated. Looking at a hero straight in the eyes somehow lessens his status. Longstreet at ground level, on no pedestal and in the woods, again, is a challenge, but, artistically, an interesting and exciting one.
After the research, discussions, meetings and minute drawings at the table, the design became reality. Longstreet, the General, was larger than life, in full dress uniform with sash and sword. His powerful hands covered with gauntlets while clutching the reins of his powerful steed, Hero. The eyes of the General, deep set, glaring, with his head slightly turned toward his left shoulder.
The General's attention is directed toward the field to his immediate left, to the very field his men will soon cross, many never to return. Those who do return will never be the same. The wounded, in body, mind and spirit, will return South with a new reality of what war offers and demands. They, those soldiers in Longstreet's command, who dedicated themselves to defending a way of life, experienced, without knowing it, "the high water mark" of the Confederacy. Every day, every march, every battle from that day forward, would be different for those stalwart souls. Now it would be a fight for survival, a daily ritual in what would seem to be a never-ending campaign.
Longstreet knew what his command had accomplished in the past, and he knew that his men would do what was expected of them. Gazing across the expansive field on that hot July day, he questioned his Commander's orders, to send his force against the stone wall, a tactic used in Fredericksburg earlier in the war by the Union army, that would lead to devastation and failure. He grieved for his men and the families that would soon encounter the vacant chair. However difficult his decision was that day, he knew he had only one choice. That choice was to follow orders.
As Hero, his war horse, lunges against the bit in an effort to relieve the pain, he also follows orders and plants his hooves with his powerful muscles into the soft Pennsylvania topsoil. He slows the pace and the sad, battle-hardened rider takes his last, long heart-felt glimpse across the field into infamy.
'Its About Time'
The Sculpting of the General James Longstreet Memorial
  Page1| Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5

Back to Gary Casteel

Next Page