What began as a temporary visit has led to a permanent change of address. Previously on loan from the Johnson Collection, The Battle of Gettysburg: Repulse of Longstreet’s Assault, July 3, 1863 is now part of the Spartanburg County Public Libraries’ permanent collection, a gift from Susu and George Dean Johnson, Jr. On display since May 2016 in the Moseley Gallery at the downtown headquarters on Church Street, the panoramic painting records the dramatic sweep, as well as particular details, of the longest—and bloodiest—engagement of the American Civil War. The defeat of Confederate forces in the Pennsylvania countryside marked a critical turning point in the conflict’s outcome.
Measuring 20 feet in length and over 7 feet in height, the monumental canvas was acquired by the Johnson Collection in 2004. In an effort to increase its visibility and maximize its teaching potential, the library leadership and Johnson family initiated a public-private partnership in 2016 which resulted in the work’s relocation from a corporate headquarters to the Moseley Gallery. At its new—and now permanent—home, the painting is available to the Headquarters Library’s nearly 500,000 annual visitors. “Understanding our nation’s complex past is perhaps the best way to prepare for its future,” George Johnson noted. “America’s history belongs to its people, and by placing this remarkable document in public hands, we hope to ensure that the moments it records and the lessons it imparts are accessible to everyone.”
“The Libraries’ Board of Trustees and the Friends of the Spartanburg County Libraries are grateful and honored that the Johnson family, who have been long-time patrons of the Library, are entrusting us with The Battle of Gettysburg,” says Mary Speed Lynch, Chair of the Spartanburg County Public Libraries' Trustees. “This widely renowned and much celebrated work of art is an invaluable resource for scholars, art lovers, students and historians.”
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. 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 2016 relocation to the Spartanburg County Public Libraries' Headquarters.