Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Battlefield Artist---Charles Wellington Reed

In August 1862 Charles Wellington Reed, after completing his education, joined the 9th Massachusetts Volunteer Artillery Battery as chief bugler and served until the end of the war. In November 1864, he was placed on detached service and became an assistant topographical engineer on the staff of Gen. Gouverneur Kemble Warren, commander of the Fifth Army Corps, Army of the Potomac.

In the course of his service Reed participated in the battles of Gettysburg, Bristoe Station, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, Petersburg, Hatcher's Run, and Five Forks. He was present when the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865. Reed received a serious sabre cut on his right hand in the 1864 raid on the Weldon Railroad south of Petersburg, Virginia. Luckily, Reed was left-handed.

Lt. Reed described his war experiences in numerous letters to his family. However, his words did not reveal nearly as much about the average soldier's everyday life as did his drawings, which appeared both in letters and in two large sketch books. What Reed could not say, he drew, and obviously, the drawings speak volumes. His sketch of Lincoln visiting the Army of the Potomac during the Petersburg-Richmond Campaign captures the president's physical appearance, including his clothing and facial features, his respect for common soldiers, and the effect of his presence on the rank and file.

Reed's letters chronicle events, from the most common to the extraordinary, with simple yet thoughtful eloquence. His drawings capture a wide variety of events to which he was not only an eyewitness but also a participant. His talent was considered equal to that of leading newspaper artists of his day, and his drawings were used to illustrate Hardtack and Coffee in 1887. His illustrations also appear through the Buell and Johnson series Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. It is fortunate that Reed's writings and drawings have been preserved.

In 2000, Eric Campbell edited Reed's letters with their sketches. Campbell, a National Park Ranger at Gettysburg, provides a tour at the park of the battery's near destruction and Reed's winning of the Medal of Honor at the Abraham Trostle Farm on July 2nd. Reed rescued the battery's captain from between the battle lines; Reed was also wounded by shrapnel in the knee and chest.

Grand Terrible Drama: From Gettysburg to Petersburg: The Civil War Letters of Charles Wellington Reed, Eric A. Campbell, editor., Fordham Univesrity press, 2000.

'Slept In The Mud, Stood In the Mud, Kneeled In The Mud . . . ', Campbell, Eric A., America's Civil War, 15:6 (January 2003)



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