A long-lost Conrad Wise Chapman masterpiece comes to light.
CONRAD WISE CHAPMAN was among the most prolific Southern artists working during the war. Most of his known martial-themed works are in museums, but one long believed to have been “lost” has resurfaced. That painting, Cavalry Camp of the So. Ca. Holcomb Legion, New Kent Co. Va. Mar. 1863, was previously known only from an etching by the artist’s father, John Gadsby Chapman.
Holcomb’s Legion, or more accurately “Holcombe’s” Legion, was formed on November 13, 1861, and named for Lucy Holcombe Pickens, wife of South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens. The legion participated in the defense of Charleston and other battles in South Carolina, as well as the August 1862 Second Battle of Manassas. On March 18, 1864, the unit was reorganized and became the 7th South Carolina Cavalry. The 7th eventually surrendered to Federal forces at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
The dedication on the painting’s verso reads “for Rev. Dr. Lyman by C.W. Chapman”—likely the Rev. Thomas Benedict Lyman, fourth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina from 1881 to 1893. The painting descended within Lyman’s family until it was acquired by an art dealer in San Francisco, who then sold it to its present owner in 1960.
Conrad Chapman was a native Virginian, and both he and his brother, John, were successful expatriate painters working in Rome at the outbreak of the Civil War. Conrad immediately sold off what works he could to pay for his trip back to America, so he could join the Confederate Army.
In September 1861, Conrad Chapman enlisted in Company D, 3rd Kentucky Infantry, in Bowling Green, Ky. He was wounded at the April 1862 Battle of Shiloh before being transferred to the Eastern Theater and eventually to the 59th Virginia Infantry, where he became an ordnance sergeant. On September 21, 1863, he was “Recommended as a fine artist” to the Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida and sent south.
In Charleston, General P.G.T. Beauregard assigned Chapman the task of sketching the city’s fortifications for the general’s memoir. Most of those sketches were drawn between December 1863 and March 1864. Although the general’s memoir was never completed, Chapman’s sketches became the basis for a group of 31 oil paintings depicting Confederate battlements and camps in and around Charleston Harbor, works now in the collections of the Museum of the Confederacy.
The scarcity of materials in the South during the war may explain the dearth of Confederate painters—making Cavalry Camp of the So. Ca. Holcomb Legion both a rare work of art and a precious historical document.
Originally published in the October 2013 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.