Confederate Cadet to World Famous Artist

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Cavalry Charger

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Moses Jacob Ezekiel:

"I hope you will be an artist, as it seems to me you are cut out for one. But, whatever you do, try to prove to the world that if we did not succeed in our struggle, we are worthy of success, and do earn a reputation in whatever profession you undertake" - Robert E. Lee".

From the humblest origins, Moses Jacob Ezekiel sought a public education at America's first state military college, the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) during the Civil War. While at VMI, he fought as a member of the VMI Cadet Battalion on the Confederate side at the Battle of Newmarket (May 15, 1864). There he witnessed the deaths and maimings of some of his closest friends. He remained with the cadet corps and fought in the Richmond trenches in defense of his native city. After the war, Ezekiel returned to VMI and graduated in 1866. He then launched a brilliantly successful artistic career in Europe where, despite a long life as an émigré, he remained close to his American and Virginian roots.

Ezekiel later explained his reasons for going to VMI and, by implication, fighting for the Confederacy. He asserted that he'd gone there, not to defend slavery—an institution which, in this thinking, had unfortunately been inherited and limited by Virginia. Rather, Ezekiel further asserted, he went there to defend Virginia when she seceded to avoid providing troops to the Union to "subjugate her sister Southern states". These views were typical of the VMI cadets of that period, ignoring the fact that his state in 1858 had the largest slave population in the South and, over the previous 30 years, had exported 200,000 slaves to the other Southern states.

As VMI's first Jewish cadet there were some unusual letters; for example, in March 1863, Superintendent Major General F.H. Smith had to gain Board of Visitor's permission for Moses to be furloughed to join his family for the "Feast of Unleavened Bread." As Moses was apparently the first of his family to go into a military school, some reorientation at home was also necessary: his grandfather had wanted him excused from VMI summer camp in 1863 for fear of "disease" he might contract from exposure.

One of the lasting memories of the Class of 1866 was the May 1863 death and funeral of Lt. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, who had spent the last 12 years of his life on VMI's faculty. Ezekiel was one of the corporals of the guard—who had the primary mission of ensuring that overzealous cadets didn't pluck too many floral souvenirs from "Stonewall's" heavily bedecked metal casket as it lay in state in his old VMI classroom—before Jackson's burial.

Ezekiel's war service came as a member of the Newmarket Corps or "Baby Corps," which fought effectively as the 295-man VMI Cadet Battalion in the Newmarket Battle. Moses Ezekiel participated in the fight as a private of Company "C," first in the forced march to Staunton, Harrisonburg and Newmarket, and then in the direct assault on the Union positions which defeated Sigel's forces. The battle was credited with saving the Shenandoah harvest for the Rebel forces fighting in the East.


After the battle, Ezekiel's efforts focused on the sad mission of recovering the dead and wounded )the small cadet battalion had suffered 24 percent casualties). He first wandered the battlefield with B.A. Colonna [VMI 1864] searching for their mutual friend, Thomas Garland Jefferson [VMI 1867], a descendant of the third U.S. President. They found Jefferson, desperately wounded in the chest and lying in a hut. Ezekiel then walked, fare-footed (as his shoes had been lost in the mud during the assault), into Newmarket to find a wagon.


The subsequently took Jefferson to the home of Lydie Clinedinst...While Jefferson remained in bed in agonizing pain for two days, Ezekiel nursed him and read to him from the Bible.


On the evening of Tuesday, May 17, 1864, by candlelight, the Clinedinst family listened as young Moses read to his dying Christian friend the requested passages from the New Testament (John, Chap. 14): "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." As Jefferson's fevered mind wandered, he thought Ezekiel was first his mother, and then his sister. As he lost his sight, he asked for a light. "Only then it dawned on me," wrote Ezekiel, "that all hope was past and [he was] in his [death] agony." The family gathered around, as Ezekiel held him in his arms while he died.


Ezekiel was promoted to cadet orderly or first sergeant of Company "C" after Newmarket. He completed his educated—interrupted somewhat by the burning of the Institute, its relocation to the Richmond Almshouse, the Richmond-Petersburg Siege, disbanding the cadets corps, and the final surrender.


In his final year, he came to the attention of Robert E. Lee, newly resident in Lexington as the president of Washington College, and Lee's wife. Lee encouraged him to pursue his artistic talents:


"I hope you will be an artist, as it seems to me you are cut out for one. But, whatever you do, try to prove to the world that if we did not succeed in our struggle, we are worthy of success, and do earn a reputation in whatever profession you undertake."

A number of Ezekiel's works were directly related to his ties to Virginia, VMI and the South. He did an allegorical statue of Thomas Jefferson for Louisville, Kentucky, and a replica for the University of Virginia. He accomplished a "Stonewall" Jackson statue for Charleston, West Virginia, and a replica which replaced Ezekiel's own "Virginia Mourning Her Dead" in 1912 in front of VMI's Jackson Arch. Ezekiel explained that he had conceived it about a decade earlier as a memorial to his fallen cadet comrades. Seeing the fresh young cadet faces before him at the dedication, Ezekiel recalled "Something arose like a stone in my throat, and fell to my heart, slashing tears to my eyes."


A less well-known, Civil War-related work, a bronze entitled "The Outlook," depicts a Confederate soldier (accomplished in 1910) looking our at Lake Erie from the Confederate cemetery at the site of the former prisoner-of-war camp at Johnson's Island, Ohio—where many of his fellow VMI men had been imprisoned and several were buried. In 1910 he made what appears to have been a final visit to the U.S. where he was a guest at the VMI commencement. His last work (1917) was a bronze statue of a fellow Richmond resident and artist, Edgar Allen Poe, later in Baltimore's Wyman Park.

When World War I trapped Ezekiel in Rome, he put aside his sculptures to help organize the American-Italian Red Cross. Shortly afterward however, on March 27, 1917, he died in Rome, where he had maintained his studio in the Baths of Diocletian. Because of the war—ironically the U.S. Joint Resolution to declare war was written by his fellow Newmarket Corps cadet, Senator Thomas Staples Martin [VMI 1867]—Ezekiel's body was temporarily interred in the family crypt of Adolpho De Bosis.


In life, Ezekiel had been honored by several Italian Kings, Robert E. Lee, U.S. Presidents Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson, and such notables as Mark Twain, Thomas Nelson Page, J.P. Morgan, Anthony Drexel, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Franz Liszt, and Kaiser Wilhelm II.


With his passing, a New York Times dispatch from Rome reported:


"The death of Moses Ezekiel, the distinguished and greatly beloved American sculptor, who lived in Rome for more than forty years, caused universal regret here."


Late in life, however, his heart had sentimentally returned to his Virginia roots and to "The VMI, where every stone and blade of grass is dear to me, and the name of the cadet of the VMI, the proudest and most honored title I can ever possess." His body was shipped aboard the Duca degli Abruzzi from Naples, Italy, on February 27, 1921.


True to his loyal words, in a March 31, 1921, burial ceremony—the first held in the amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery, and presided over by U.S. Secretary of War John W. Weeks, Ezekiel was laid to rest next to his Confederate memorial. Flanking his flower-bedecked and American-flag covered casket, were six VMI cadet captains and two other cadets, including future Marine Commandant Randolph McC. Pate [VMI 1921]. At the gravesite, a small headstone was placed. Its simple words spoke volumes:


Moses J. Ezekiel

Sergeant of Company C

Battalion of Cadets of the

Virginia Military Institute



During the funeral the Marine Band played Liszt's "Love's Dream"' a message was read from President Warren G. Harding, who praised Ezekiel as "a great Virginian, a great artist, a great American, and a great citizen of world fame;" a tribute was paid by Rabbi D. Philipson of Cincinnati (who wrote a monograph on Ezekiel the following year); and a Masonic interment was conducted by the Washington Centennial Lodge No. 14, F.A.A.M. A separate ceremony was conducted by the United Daughters of the Confederacy at the Scottish Rite Temple.


In the subsequent years, except in Virginia and in academic circles, Ezekiel's memory sadly faded. Appropriately, his biography was included, along with those of the other 294 members of the Newmarket Corps, in a 1933 work by William Couper. Ezekiel's 1912 typescript manuscript memoirs (which formed the basis for a 1974 book, Moses Jacob Ezekiel: Memoirs from the Baths of Diocletian, edited by J. Gumann and S.F. Chyet; Wayne State Univ. Press), is in the VMI Archives. Earlier works on Ezekiel are: American Art and American Art Collections, Volume II (Boston, 1889); American Jewish Yearbook, Volume 19, 1917/1918; Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Volume 60, No. 2, April 1952.


A major exhibit of Ezekiel's works and life was conducted in 1985 by the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia and Richmond, and in Grand Rapids, Iowa. An exhibit is also housed in the Beth Ahabah Museum, Richmond, Ezekiel's home synagogue. Ezekiel papers and letters are in the Museum of the Confederacy. Of the nearly 2000 VMI alumni, faculty members and members of the state-appointed governing Board of Visitors, Ezekiel's VMI alumnus file is one of the largest in the VMI Archives".

www.jewish-history.com/civilwar/moses_ezekiel.html
 
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Cavalry Charger

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What a life! You want to cry when you realize how many people these days days would dismiss Mozes Ezekiel as a Nazi.
Hi RobertP. I'm not sure what you mean...a Nazi in what way? I'm relatively new to Moses Ezekiel's story, so maybe you could fill me in.
 

RobertP

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Hi RobertP. I'm not sure what you mean...a Nazi in what way? I'm relatively new to Moses Ezekiel's story, so maybe you could fill me in.
It's popular these days to compare any Confederate to a Nazi. A cheap and easy smear by people who are not fit to carry that man's lunch and shows how much attitudes have changed since the days Mr. Ezekiel was honored by US Presidents and Kings alike.
 
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Cavalry Charger

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It's popular these days to compare any Confederate to a Nazi. A cheap and easy smear by people who are not fit to carry that man's lunch and shows how much attitudes have changed since the days Mr. Ezekiel was honored by US Presidents and Kings alike.
I wondered if it was a more modern day reference, and it is also one of the reasons for me posting this thread. Each of these men were individuals, and had not only their Confederate leanings to consider in relation to their lives either before or after the war. In Moses Ezekiel's case, he gave a good representation of himself both before, during, and after the war. I can see little to detract in terms of his service as a VMI cadet and graduate. In fact, the account is a quite moving one, and well worth sharing. There is much that is worthy of remembrance in relation to his life...in my opinion, no one can take that away from him.
 
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Cavalry Charger

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Statue of Thomas Jefferson by Moses Jacob Ezekiel (October 28, 1844, Virginia – March 27, 1917). Located beside the Rotunda, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA. Statue was unveiled in May 1910, and is a smaller copy of the work created for Louisville, Kentucky, two years before. (New York Times, "Ezekiel, Sculptor, Arrives", May 25, 1910).
 
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Cavalry Charger

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Huh? Who would dismiss him as a Nazi. kinda hard to do, him being Jewish, don't you think?
That thought also crossed my mind, but (for their own reasons) I'm guessing people don't always discriminate when it comes to those who wore the Confederate uniform.
 

Cavalry Charger

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virginia-weeps.jpg
VMI cadets marching past Ezekiel’s “Virginia Mourning Her Dead” (1903), Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Virginia. He attended the dedication of this statute, which includes the graves of eight cadets killed at New Market to include his friend, Thomas Jefferson Garfield. He said at the time that, “something arose like a stone in my throat, and fell to my heart, slashing tears to my eyes” upon seeing the cadets on the field again.

the-lookout1.jpg
The Lookout (1910) by Moses Jacob Ezekiel, Confederate Cemetery, Johnson’s Island, Ohio. The site was a POW camp for Confederate soldiers including several VMI graduates.

eapoestatue.jpg
His last work completed was the Statue of Edgar Allan Poe (1917), currently at the University of Baltimore. It should be remembered that Poe grew up as a poor kid in Richmond, a soldier, and, briefly, a cadet at the USMA.
 

Story

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Every few months brings news about the Confederate flag or Confederate monuments, and their legitimate or illegitimate place in American culture. Last spring lawmakers unsuccessfully urged The Citadel to take down the rebel flag that flies on the school’s campus, arguing that the school not be entitled to government money as long as the flag remained on view. In December 2016 a soaring, 70-foot tall Confederate monument, topped by a statue of Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis and standing near the University of Louisville, was moved to a less visible location. This May saw the city of New Orleans removing the final of four Confederate monuments in the city, which included statues of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Recent weeks have provoked an impassioned debate about the hundreds of remaining monuments on American soil, initiated by white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of General Lee in Charlottesville.

Surely the most visible monument to the Confederacy stands at Arlington National Cemetery. Unveiled in 1914 and measuring 32-feet tall, the classically styled and highly allegorical bronze monument rests 400 yards away from the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. Comprising over thirty life-size figures and topped by a woman holding forth a laurel wreath of victory, the monument was sculpted by Moses Jacob Ezekiel, an American-born Jew of Sephardic ancestry and a cadet who fought in the Civil War.

https://blog.oup.com/2017/10/jacob-ezekiel-sculptor/
 
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