Lee and Jackson, September 19, 1862
"I constantly read about the Civil War. As I do I find myself returning often to Douglas Southall Freeman's matchless biography of Robert E. Lee. I was reading Freeman again and came to his account of Lee's army crossing the Potomac after the Battle of Antietam. I was struck by his description of the scene and realized the event offered the perfect opportunity to paint a powerful picture containing several challenging elements: darkness, water and contrasting light.
I love painting night scenes, and the difficulty of painting the river was a challenge. The torchlight used by the troops was a dramatic contrast to the cool blue light of the night - and that added an additional challenge. And, of course, it was a powerful historic moment. Lee had taken his army to the North in hopes of winning a great battle that would end the war. Instead, his high hopes had ended in a stalemate near Sharpsburg, Maryland in the bloodiest single day of the war. Two days later, Lee and his army had to again ford the mighty Potomac as they withdrew for the safety of Virginia. Just getting his army safely back to Virginia in shape to fight again would be a victory of sorts for Lee. The scene held great drama, pathos, and energy - horses splashing in excitement, artillery caissons backing up, confusion and chaos - all superintended by a calm, determined Lee. Beside him, Stonewall Jackson silently surveyed the action, as Jackson's quartermaster - Colonel John Harmon - tried to undo the confusion and supervise the crossing.
In contrast to the energy and action of the background, I tried to portray Lee and Jackson in calm poses that reflected the confidence and discipline of their leadership.
Night Crossing was one of the most challenging paintings I've done in years. I was satisfied with the outcome and I hope the viewer is pleased too."--Mort Kunstler