“It is well that war is so terrible, – we should grow too fond of it.” These were the words spoken by Robert E. Lee to his “old war horse,” James Longstreet at Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862. To me, they sum up the character of the man in one sentence. In spite of the great victory he had just gained, he never lost sight of the horrors of war.
Lee met Longstreet on the morning of December 13 amid the melting snow of late autumn storms. There was fog everywhere and the city of Fredericksburg was obscured from view. Later in the day, as the fog lifted, the Union forces forded the Rappahannock River and commanding Gen. Burnside sent wave after wave of Federal troops in a brave, but fatal, attack on the strongly entrenched Confederate positions on Marye’s Heights. Reading an account of this day presented me with the perfect opportunity to show James Longstreet with his commanding general looking over the battlefield from Lee’s Hill.
I visited both Lee’s Hill and Marye’s Heights and was assisted immeasurably by Frank O’Reilly, the National Park Service historian at Fredericksburg. Famed author-historian James Robertson, Jr. was of great help in determining the time of day and weather conditions that existed that morning.
In addition to Longstreet, Lee and their attending staffs, I was also able to get the gun positions and crews into the painting. I learned that behind the line of guns Federal artillery had been shelling Lee’s Hill. I put the twisted and wrecked trees into the picture to add depth, authenticity, and the feeling of death to the scene. —Mort Kunstler
This is the first painting of fog, a difficult effect to achieve, that I have done since 1992 when I did Battle Above the Clouds. I have tried to faithfully capture an unforgettable moment from the Civil War – one that characterizes Robert E. Lee. I hope I have succeeded.