Today we are pleased to welcome back guest author, Michael Aubrecht. Additional posts about the Cyclorama are also available in our archive. ECW Correspondent Liam McGurl visited the Cyclorama in November, 2016. In July, 2015, Chris Mackowski reviewed The Gettysburg Cyclorama: The Turning Point of the Civil War on Canvas by Chris Brenneman and Sue Boardman, Photographed by Bill Dowling. This work is available through Savas Beatie, LLC.
The Gettysburg Cyclorama is an epic, 360-degree circular oil-on-canvas painting that depicts the third day’s battle known as “Pickett’s Charge.” It is 42 feet × 377 feet and was created by French artist Paul Philippoteaux. It was originally debuted in 1884. One of the last surviving cycloramas in the United States, the curved-panel painting is a marvel of both art and science. Renowned Civil War artist Mort Kunstler has called it “An incredible, imposing piece of art.”
Standing in the center, visitors are completely surrounded by a breath-taking, panoramic view that depicts, in meticulous detail, the triumphs and tragedies of July 3rd, 1863. Today the Cyclorama is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Gettysburg.
The following six images are details taken from the painting. They were photographed by Jason Minick and provided by Katherine Jeschke of the Gettysburg Foundation. Visit them at https://www.gettysburgfoundation.org/. The images represent only a small portion of the complete painting. The panels speak for themselves.
A New York battery gallops towards the fighting near the Copse of Trees. Battery B, 1st New York Light Artillery fought near the Wheatfield and was stationed on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, directly in the path of Pickett’s Charge. Battery B brought 114 men to the field serving four 10-pounder Parrott Rifles.
A surgeon amputates the leg of a wounded man at a makeshift field hospital. The injuries to be dealt with in battle were dreadful and the fault of the soft lead Minie Ball. With the capability to kill at over 1,000 yards, this bullet caused large, gaping holes, splintered bones, and destroyed muscles, arteries and tissues beyond any possible repair.
Federal mounted troops tend to their excited horses behind the Union lines near the Copse of Trees. It is estimated that the horse casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg alone, exceeded 3,000.
Philippoteaux, identified himself with the Cyclorama by portraying himself as the Union officer standing beneath the tree. Four versions of his painting were painted, two of which are among the last surviving cycloramas in the United States.
Confederate troops advance toward the fight near damaged buildings. Pickett’s Charge involved an infantry assault of approximately 15,000 Confederate soldiers against troops’ positioned along Cemetery Ridge, manned by some 6,500 Federals.
Federal troops also advance in ranks near damaged buildings. A Union counteroffensive never came; the Army of the Potomac was exhausted and nearly as damaged at the end of the three days as the Army of Northern Virginia. The Federal command was content to hold the field.
The viewing experience opens with a short film titled “A New Birth of Freedom.” It is narrated by Morgan Freeman and was sponsored by the History Channel. The film includes the sights and sounds of the battle. It is meant to orient visitors to their surroundings. The painting is longer than a football field and weighs three tons. The painting has been meticulously restored over the past few years, during what was the largest painting conservation ever undertaken on the continent. Tickets for adults are currently $15. Ages 6-12 are $10 with younger children free. They also offer discounts for seniors and military personnel. Friends of Gettysburg receive complimentary admission to the film.
For more information visit: https://www.gettysburgfoundation.org/museum-and-visitor-center/.