James Walker's "The Battle of Lookout Mountain"

James N.

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The Battle of Lookout Mountain is the title of this enormous 13' X 30' painting by English artist James Walker, who is probably best known for his similarly large-scale canvases depicting battles of the U.S. - Mexican War. Currently the centerpiece of the National Park Service's small museum and visitor center at Chattanooga's Point Park atop Lookout Mountain, the painting was supposedly originally comissioned by Union Major General Joseph Hooker to commemorate his victory there in "The Battle Above the Clouds". The photo above shows the painting in its entirety, covering an entire wall in the museum. Below are close-ups that show Walker's meticulous though sometimes questionable attention to details.

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Fittingly, at the center is a dramatic meeting of Hooker, mounted on a white charger, with one of his subordinates; directly behind Hooker on a black horse is his long-time friend and chief-of-staff Brig. Gen. Daniel Butterfield, usually credited as the author of Taps. Other imacculately dressed staff officers complete the assemblage, looking like something out of a scene of Romantic Chivalry; behind them the battle rages along the mountainside.

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To the viewer's left, the cavalcade continues; directly behind them is a column of cavalry, presumably the General's escort. In the background is visible the line of the Chattanooga & Nashville R.R. and its cut at the base of Lookout. One of Walker's questionable details can be seen here in the scattering of red kepis among the infantry waiting in the foreground.
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To right of center is the team bringing up the first gun of the battery whose battalion commander major is meeting with Hooker; note more of the questionable red kepis scattered about. These artillerymen are also suspiciously well-dressed for combat, wearing not only full-dress shoulder scales on their shell jackets, but also carrying the curved M.1840 Saber for Light Artillery that was usually left stored in the battery baggage wagons.
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The sabers themselves are also incorrectly rendered, having the somewhat extreme curve of light artillery sabers, but instead of their simple C-guard knucklebow are shown with the three-bar guard of cavalry sabers. Also notice the proliferation of red Hardee-style hat cords on the enlisted men, NONE of them worn correctly with tassels to the front! Of course these, if worn at all, would be in branch colors with red on artillerymen only, blue on the infantrymen, and yellow on the cavalrymen.
 
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James N.

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The profile of the mountain isn't quite right, according to what I am familair with.

I neglected to mention that the Park Service owns another much smaller version of the battle by Walker I saw displayed in an inconspicuous location inside the Fuller Gun Collection room of the Visitor Center at nearby Chickamauga. Though almost tiny, especially by comparison with this, somehow it looks more realistic in just about every respect. Though Hooker does appear in that one as well, conspicuous on his white charger but in the background, the focus is on a much more realistic artillery battery in action. Probably because he was working on comission on this for Hooker, he distorted and made grander every aspect, maybe even the mountain itself! Walker also painted another of unknown size showing Thomas' defense of Snodgrass Hill at Chickamauga that the NPS uses on the park flyer.
 

DixieRifles

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I made another visit to Lookout Mountain, the Craven's House and Point Park. I also hiked the Rifle Pits Trail again to see where my ancestor's 30th Mississippi Regiment position was on the side of Lookout Mtn.

While there, I heard a great presentation on Walker's Painting by NPS ranger Chris Young. It was brief but I was glad I got to hear it. He pointed out several details on the painting as well as gave a history of it.
Here are some facts as best as I can recall.

General Hooker commissioned Walker to make this painting for $20,000. Walker was there as an eye witness of the battle and he collected photos and stayed in the area for months to continue interviews with witnesses. Smaller versions of this painting were not as accurate and included a large amount of cavalry and artillery in the foreground. This painting was finished in 1874. It was passed down through the family and stored in a garage until it deteriorated such that it was appraised for $150. It was donated to the NPS and they raised $100,000 to restore it. NPS finally purchased the building and worked to build a room for it. Finally, it went on display in 1986.

The painting is viewed from a point on the West side of Lookout Creek, where it forms a "V" before entering the Tennessee River. This "V" can be seen on the NPS map in the area marked Wauhatchie Site 1 and Wauhatchie Site 3. See Link:
http://www.nps.gov/chch/planyourvisit/upload/Lookout-Mountain-Battlefield-Map.pdf

Lookout Creek is not directly seen in the painting but there are trees that line the creek just beyond the first line of Union troops and cavalry. General Hooker and staff and foreground troops are situated on this "V" of the creek. The Creek can be seen further to the right where you see a destroyed bridge. As I understood him, this bridge is the turnpike bridge. However, it could be the Nashville & Chattanooga RR Bridge. The Union troops crossed the partially destroyed Turnpike Bridge and you can see in the painting what appears to be some crossing a bridge in front of the ramps of the destroyed bridge. Historical Maps show the Turnpike bridge was north of the RR bridge. Either way, the Turnpike continues to the left of the painting and crosses the RR as it runs along the base of the Mtn past the Fryer House(seen in the painting) and thru the gap in the slope---where you see Confederates running. The Ranger did say that the bridge for the present-day RR matches the location where the Turnpike crossed Lookout Creek.

Further to the right of the painting, you can see a group of men moving to the right. These are Confederate Prisoners being escorted to the rear after having crossed Lookout Creek. I found that interesting but technically puzzling. Why? Well many Mississippians of Walthall's brigade were taken prisoner as their positions were over-run. The 34th Mississippi was spread out along Lookout Creek in the foreground and were cut off when the Union crossed Lookout Creek. Well you can still see they are there and fighting. The 29th & 30th Mississippi Regiments were up on the slope--which are seen fighting just under the cloud. So I think the painting is accurate but these 3 areas of the battle are not exactly occurring in one time.

BTW, I drove out to Parker Lane on the NPS Tour map and hiked out to Wauhatchie Site 1. I couldn't find the Site 3 and am not sure what it is. Site 1 is a memorial marker for an Ohio brigade who was present at the battle of Wauhatchie. You can see that monument when you drive I-24 East as it sits about 100 yards from the highway.
You can drive out to Site 1 and just 100 yds further is a cleared area you can park. The semi-paved road continues SE and goes thru a RR Tunnel underpass and turns almost East. It gets pretty muddy even though it is still a graveled road of sorts and the sides cleared of brush. It will come to another RR Tunnel to the Left. The road turns left and goes under the RR and turns back right. I didn't continue that direction which I suppose would lead to Site 3. Instead, I didn't turn left but continued in the same direction and the road goes up a steep hill. I crossed the hill and decided to turn back.

You can see this Parker Lane and Site 1 on Google Maps satellite images. Note also, two modern RailRoads converge next to I-24 as they go around the point of Lookout Mtn. One RR passes through a tunnel.

Also, the NPS did have a Walker painting of Battle of Chickmauga at one time. It was on loan for 2 years and was returned to the Museum of the Army.
 

Patrick H

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The artist probably never saw it.
This is a reply to all, but I think it's likely that TerryB summed it up in a few short words. Commercial artists (I am one of those) work for clients, and their job is to illustrate the scene as the client wishes it to be portrayed. So we cannot accept this painting as historically accurate in every detail (or even in many details). It portrays the battle in the way the commissioner of the piece asked for it to be portrayed. Most modern day historic illustrators go to great lengths to depict things accurately, as best their research informs them. This was not always the case.
 

M E Wolf

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I'm impressed with the details within the artwork -- for example, what I noticed and makes total sense to me, are wearing of shoulder scales on the drivers of the Artillery horses. There could have been Cavalry attempts to cut down the drivers and get the whole team of horses and Artillery piece off the field and for their use, if the enemy.

I'll enjoy the whole artwork -- as, for me, I didn't get my plate filled with artistic talent.

M. E. Wolf
 

atthelevy

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This is a reply to all, but I think it's likely that TerryB summed it up in a few short words. Commercial artists (I am one of those) work for clients, and their job is to illustrate the scene as the client wishes it to be portrayed. So we cannot accept this painting as historically accurate in every detail (or even in many details). It portrays the battle in the way the commissioner of the piece asked for it to be portrayed. Most modern day historic illustrators go to great lengths to depict things accurately, as best their research informs them. This was not always the case.
Good point
 

Lubliner

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This is a reply to all, but I think it's likely that TerryB summed it up in a few short words. Commercial artists (I am one of those) work for clients, and their job is to illustrate the scene as the client wishes it to be portrayed. So we cannot accept this painting as historically accurate in every detail (or even in many details). It portrays the battle in the way the commissioner of the piece asked for it to be portrayed. Most modern day historic illustrators go to great lengths to depict things accurately, as best their research informs them. This was not always the case.
I agree, and so do Writers' Agents and Editors. They work for a Publishing House that can be very implicit on what they publish. One look at the 'Writer's Market' published by Writer's Digest Books will prove that. (I have the 2000 updated edition). Also ghost writers working cooperatively with a client to help him tell his perspective, is common. An artist will generally perceive 'his' model in a different shade of light unless called upon to be exact.
Lubliner.
 

Lampasas Bill

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It's a very nice composition. Notice how the artist draws the viewer's eye to Hooker: the majority of figures on the right are dynamically leaning to the left toward Hooker; even the three tall trees in the middle distance are leaning. Hooker, the three colors and the staff and escort on the left side of the painting are vertical, bringing the eye to a halt on the General's white horse near the center; the apex of the triangular mountain is also almost directly over the General. Despite some errors in detail, the picture is very well composed.
 

7thWisconsin

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Walker actually saw Lookout Mountain at least once; he painted it prewar. His battle painting is very similar, with wisps of gunsmoke instead of clouds. I love Walker for the meticulous detail and jewel-like quality of his rendering. They remind me of miniatures. He also painted the Mexican War. Some of his stylistic peculiarities show up there too. He likes that saber and uses it a lot. He also likes red bedrolls - his Gettysburg painting painting is full of them too. He's a grand romantic landscapist, just take his uniforms with a grain of salt.
 

7thWisconsin

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It's a very nice composition. Notice how the artist draws the viewer's eye to Hooker: the majority of figures on the right are dynamically leaning to the left toward Hooker; even the three tall trees in the middle distance are leaning. Hooker, the three colors and the staff and escort on the left side of the painting are vertical, bringing the eye to a halt on the General's white horse near the center; the apex of the triangular mountain is also almost directly over the General. Despite some errors in detail, the picture is very well composed.
Agreed! He is a master of composition. Even his Pickett´s Charge painting, as crowded as it is, is very carefully composed.
 

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