An iconic visual document of a pivotal moment in American history has a new home in downtown Spartanburg. The Johnson Collection’s monumental painting, The Battle of Gettysburg: The Repulse of Longstreet’s Assault, July 3, 1863, has been relocated from its former site to the Church Street headquarters of the Spartanburg County Public Libraries. The work is now on display in the Moseley Gallery, one of two new programming spaces recently constructed on the facility’s second floor.
Measuring 20 feet in length and over 7 feet in height, The Battle of Gettysburg had been housed at the corporate headquarters of Advance America. While open to the public for viewing, the site did not provide optimal accessibility. In an effort to increase the painting’s visibility and maximize its potential as a teaching tool, the library leadership and Johnson family initiated a public-private partnership. “With over a half-million visitors each year, the library headquarters offers the greater Spartanburg community unparalleled access to this compelling record of our nation’s history,” stated George Dean Johnson, Jr. “The Johnson Collection operates on the principle that art should be shared, and The Battle of Gettysburg’s new location will ensure that our neighbors—and visitors to Spartanburg—will have more opportunities to appreciate this particular work of art and the American story it conveys.”
“One of the core roles of the Spartanburg County Public Libraries is to acquire, preserve, and present the historical record,” says Mary Speed Lynch, Chair of the Spartanburg county public libraries' Trustees. “The Gettysburg adds a new dimension to the Kennedy Room of Local and South Carolina History. The Battle of Gettysburg, coupled with the Kennedy Room’s holdings, brings to life one of America’s greatest conflicts. We are proud to partner with the Johnson Collection in the presentation of South Carolina and America’s story.” An audio tour available on the Johnson Collection website’s mobile application allows visitors to enjoy an 11-minute narration of the painting’s significance and content.
The Battle of Gettysburg was executed by James Walker (1819-1889), an English immigrant who earned accolades as a painter of battle scenes during the Mexican War, skills he later put to use making sketches of key Civil War conflicts. After the war, Walker began to collaborate with John Badger Bachelder (1825-1894), a photographer and topographic artist who had been attached to the Union army as an illustrator. In the immediate aftermath of the 1863 conflict, Bachelder began an on-site study of the scene and the principals involved. The resulting isometric map led to Walker’s commission to create a massive painting that details the battle’s particulars. Completed in 1870, Walker’s grand canvas captures the dramatic conclusion of the three-day battle, which marked a turning point in the war’s tide. Bachelder’s meticulous research and Walker’s precise technical skill combined to produce an epic visual record of the event, including regimental positions, combat vignettes, Union and Confederate soldiers, noble steeds, victory, and defeat.
“Both casual and serious students of nineteenth century history will find a wealth of information in The Battle of Gettysburg’s presentation,” asserts Johnson Collection curator Dr. Erin Corrales-Diaz. “The monumentality of the painting allows the viewer to become immersed in the scene, yet the detailed vignettes such as Confederate General Armistead handing an aide his pocket watch to give to Union General Hancock, provide a spotlight focus that makes the painting more tangible and accessible.”
A series of short videos offer background on the painting's creation and history, the significance of the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War narrative, and the work's relocation to the Spartanburg County Public Libraries' Headquarters.