James Walker’s Resaca Painting

Resaca Mural in New York State Military Museum

“In her will of Jan 29, 1913, Julia Butterfield bequeathed to the “Historical Society of Utica,” “a picture painted by Walker of the Battle of Resaca on a heavy carved wood pedestal, with said pedestal, presented to the General by his officers.”  Since the Utica painting is 36″ x 14″, about the circumference of a pedestal, I believe that that painting was originally wrapped around the pedestal.  I saw it seven or eight years ago and it had
clearly been conserved and is mounted on some type of aluminum panel.“

-Courtney T. Burns, April 2018
Director of Military History
New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs

595 Resaca Butterfield sm adj overlay

Copy of James Walker’s “Assault on Resaca”

“There is an exhibition at Stevens & Robertson’s, 69 East Third Street, an engraving of the assault of the Third Division of the Twentieth Corps at the Battle of Resaca.  The painting from which this engraving was made was done by James Walker, the celebrated historical painter, one of whose many great paintings adorn the entrance to the senate chamber at Washington.  The sketches from which the painting was made were taken by Mr. Walker on the battle field the day of the fight.  The figures of Major Generals Hooker, Howard and Sickles (who was a spectator) are easily recognized in the foreground of the picture.  The original order of formation of the division for the assault, as made by Gen. Butterfield and given to the staff before the opening of the battle, is reproduced; also a list of the regiments engaged and a map of the battlefield made the day after the battle by Blakeslee, a member of the One Hundred and Twenty-ninth Illinois, is given with the picture. The proceeds of the sale of the picture are to be devoted to a statue of Gen. Hooker, to be placed on Lookout Mountain.”

Authoritative Description

From a news clipping in possession of a George H. Blakeslee descendant, apparently printed in Albany while the painting was on display.  General Butterfield probably provided the description.  I have added commentary regarding the description.

THE BATTLE OF RESACA.
The description of the Annesley Gallery exhibition of:
A Picture Representing this Historical Occurrence on Exhibition Here
.

As in the book, They All Wore a Star, this examination will try to follow Lincoln’s example and assume all statements are not intentionally erroneous but will point out discrepancies and try to reconcile them.

“An historical picture, which represents an occurrence at the battle of Resaca, Georgia, May 15, 1864, when the Third (Butterfield’s) division of the Twentieth (Hooker’s) corps of Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland, assaulted the works on the right of the Confederate lines, is on exhibition at Annesley’s art gallery. Every corps of the Army of the Tennessee and the Army of the Cumberland that had been operating during the entire preceding days upon the Confederate lines about Resaca, had been successively repulsed in the attempt to break them.”

Every corps was operating to press the Confederates into their prepared works, not necessarily to break them.  Had the confederates been broken, the Federals, working their way into positions, may not have been prepared to handle the confusion. When the Rebels did try to break and flank on the left that evening, the fighting went in their favor at first. Two of Hooker’s brigades, help repel them.

“General Thomas then ordered General Hooker to move at daylight  …”

Hooker convinced Sherman, we are told, and Sherman then told Thomas.  The idea was Hooker’s and the order was conveyed to Thomas who, in my limited observation, was inclined to allow subordinates to manage their own operation and seemed to not interfere in what Hooker’s corps undertook in this case. When Thomas himself made plans, details, including contingencies, were worked out advance.

They did not get into position till around noon.

“… from his position on the right to the extreme left of the army, and there, with his best fighting division, to assault the enemy’s right near the road into Resaca. This duty was performed by Butterfield’s division, …”

We can allow Butterfield to say his was the best fighting division but others might have differed at the time because it was his first command and he had no record, his first fight not yet underway. Especially since his lead brigade–and its commander–were also untried.

“… and the artist (Walker) who painted Lookout Mountain and Gettysburg battle, also the storming of Chapultepec, now in the Capitol at Washington, has portrayed this attack after a study of its features and the characters shown and the topography. He was with the army on that occasion. The point of view selected was at the breast-works of the Fourth (Howard’s) corps, from which, until obscured by the smoke of battle, the initial attack was plainly visible. The troops in the distance is a brigade of Butterfield’s division formed in assaulting column, as described in a facsimile from General Butterfield’s field note book which is appended to the picture.”

This prescribes the position for each regiment in each of the three brigades, the first brigade leading with the Seventieth Indiana regiment under Colonel (President) Benjamin Harrison in the advance. This brigade was supported by the Second Brigade, afterwards by the Third brigade, it having become necessary when the assault was begun to forward the Third brigade from the left reserve into an extension of the assaulting lines.

Butterfield’s positions as sketched in the lithograph were  as first ordered. But before movements began he ordered Wood to go first, up the left hill.  Wood’s 3rd Brigade cleared the left hill before Ward started and then headed for the one with the battery. This is not depicted in Butterfield’s map. The infantry in the painting appears to be headed for the hill battery, not the hill one the left, which Wood ascended. So we are not seeing Wood’s ascent. We may be seeing the smoke though.  Wood was not in reserve. He was first in action.

“The enemy observing the movement had brought up fresh troops and extended their right, so that subsequently General Hooker supported the Third brigade by placing the rest of his corps in action at its left.”

See below regarding placing the rest of his corps in action.

“Meanwhile the advance lines of Butterfield’s division had reached and held the enemy’s guns in the assaulted redoubt. During the night every corps withdrew their lines and moved away from Resaca.”

“Every Corps withdrew their lines” may refer to the confederate army.

So completes the shorter part of the story. But the advance lines reached and held.  During the night the Rebels’ withdrew.  There is quite a story about these two sentences.

“The presence of General Sickles is explained by the fact that by President Lincoln’s orders he was visiting the western armies on a special mission.”

Lincoln had managed to satisfy Sickles’ political supporters by sending him on a very important mission: commanding nothing.

Generals Howard and Hooker were present, as shown in the picture, in direct communication through staff officers with General Butterfield and other commanders. A staff officer of the latter accompanied the assaulting brigades, as indicated, Captain (afterwards Brevet Brigadier-General) Paul A. Oliver with the First brigade and Major (Brevet Brigadier-General) Henry E.Tremain, with the Second and Third brigades. The latter was, by the president’s order, on General Sickles’ staff but volunteered for this service on General Butterfield’s staff. Medals of honor were afterwards awarded by the government to Generals Oliver and Tremain for this battle.”

Tremain and Oliver seem to have done their jobs well.  Butterfield’s recommendations for the Medal of Honor listed activities in other battles but emphasizing above all their actions to stop one brigade firing into another in this battle.

“The troops engaged on both sides and the names of the chief commanders are printed at the foot of the picture. Hooker, commanding the Twentieth corps, went to Howard’s position, when the assault commenced, as a point of vantage from which any necessary directions could be given, and then left General Howard in order to place the balance of his corps, being the two divisions under Williams and Geary, respectively, in action beyond the hills shown at the left of the picture.”

Hooker’s own activities as told by Butterfield are interesting. When Wood ascended the left hill Hooker was informed of the Rebel troops moving north and then directed Williams to move.  Until then Williams’s division had been lined up waiting to deploy. Hooker is depicted with Howard when the assault commenced.  Others tell us that shortly after Ireland stopped his brigade, Hooker, with Geary,  was personally redirecting movements of Ireland’s regiments.  Infantry moving in the picture is headed for the battery.  Testimony in the book demonstrates that Williams had not moved forward until Wood ran into Rebels while ascending the first crest. Williams had no instructions to assault.  He was not even placed in position to do anything before Butterfield’s assault began.  Schofield and Howard were in their trenches.  Williams’ leftmost two brigades took defensive positions and began entrenching while the fight over the battery was in progress. The Rebels behind the fort and facing Williams and Schofield were thus undisturbed—so the artillery of Stewart and Stevenson were directed elsewhere, to defend against Butterfield’s assault.

“General Butterfield and staff are not shown in the picture, except as unrecognizable horsemen faintly appear in the distant assaulting columns. In the background across the right of the picture, crossing the road into Resaca, appear the Confederate lines, which were plainly visible from almost any point of the Union lines. This painting historically illustrates the first great engagement of Sherman’s army in its campaign from Chattanooga to Atlanta, and the first guns and colors were captured by Butterfield’s assault.”

Butterfield reports no flag capture. Williams captured a flag. Count that as part of the assault.

“Interesting official data is given, including a copy of General Butterfield’s congratulatory order to his troops the morning after the battle. Colonel H. W. Perkins, Colonel Robert H. Hall, now of the Fourth Infantry of Hooker’s staff; Colonel Reynolds, chief of artillery Twentieth corps; Captains Fry and Moore, of Sickles’ staff, with a type of every kind of soldier in both armies, are plainly recognizable in the foreground. The artist’s license portrays, with the regular cavalry soldier saluting General Howard in various groups, the types of western and eastern soldiers, and plainly recognizable in a group of prisoners the dandy Confederate artillery man, the Tennessean, Mississippian and Texan. It is a valuable historical reminder of a fine assault made with great bravery and great loss, stoutly resisted by the enemies of the Union.”

FROM A BICENTENNIAL HISTORY OF ALBANY, VOL 2.

“At one time Albany had a Gallery of Fine Arts, where were collected quite a display of good pictures by such artists as Durand, Sully, Peale, Chapman, Carleton, Weir, the Harts, Ames and others. Several creditable public exhibitions of pictures were opened at sundry times. But most of the artists sought more favored homes, and the treasures of the gallery were scattered. Some of their pictures are now in trust with the Young Men’s Association and may be seen in its rooms. Ames, who was the founder and leading spirit had died. There are good pictures in Albany now in private homes, and some considerable art appreciation, but no organized exhibition or encouragement. Page, the younger Ames, the younger Palmer and Low, were born here. Boughton once resided and now has family friends here. Launt Thompson was brought out here by Dr. J. H. Armsby, and the elder Palmer, and is now one of the most eminent living sculptors. Wm. M. Hunt, born in Vermont, has left one of his masterpieces in our New Capitol. Palmer has done some of the best work in American sculpture; while Elliott was a master in portrait painting; and Twitchell, many think, quite equals, if he doesn’t exceed him in some requisites of true portraiture. His studio is here. The Hart Brothers and McDougall were once Albany boys. The colored female sculptor, Edmonia Lewis, was born in Greenbush.
Art owes something to Albany. But it has now no art gallery. Some nice pictures may often be seen in the art store of Richard Annesley, who succeeds his father, Lawton Annesley, who started the business in 1802. Mr. Vint, late partner of Annesley, has an art store, and so has John Pladwell.
We give below sketchy notes of most painters and sculptors who have had Albany as their place of birth or their home.”

Albany Newspaper Article About the Lithograph

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