What’s Wrong With J.E.B. Stuart?

On Friday I am heading down to South Boston, Virginia to lead a TAH Grant seminar of 28 high school history teachers.  Our topic is Civil War Memory.  I am going to take care of the morning session, including an overview of the topic as well as interpretive case studies with documents, film, and monuments.  In the afternoon Professor Robert Kenzer is going to talk about how to use Ken Burns’s Civil War documentary in the classroom.  I am really looking forward to this session given my passion for teaching as well as the subject.  

In preparation for the seminar I was allowed to suggest one book that would be made available to all participants and which they would be expected to read beforehand.  I selected Gary Gallagher’s recent study of the Civil War in popular culture because I thought it would both introduce the teachers to the subject of memory and give them a sense of how they can talk about the subject in the classroom.  My favorite chapter is the one on Civil War “art”, which has been a regular topic on this blog from the beginning.  I guess you could say I have a love-hate relationship with it.  On the one hand the range of images provide the perfect gauge through which to measure our collective memory of the war.  At the same time much of this art is just downright horrific.  Anyway, I am going to include a few of my favorite prints in the visual portion of my presentation.  As I was putting this part of the presentation together I came across this hilarious painting of J.E.B. Stuart by John Paul Strain titled “Bold Cavalier.”    I apologize for the quality of the Strain print, but if you click here it will take you to Strain’s own gallery thumbnail.

It looks to me like Strain took the famous photograph of Stuart on the right and just transferred his head to the body on horseback.  The effect is simply hilarious.  Stuart looks completely detached from the people around him and looks to be preparing to be photographed.  Or perhaps he just wants to get away from his adoring fans.  Either way it makes for a good laugh.

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13 comments… add one
  • Dudley Bokoski Jul 7, 2011 @ 0:42

    What throws it off for me is Stuart looking as if toward a camera. It would have worked better if he was interacting the the people around him, but that would have forced a different angle which didn’t include the building. Not bad, just a little too staged looking.

    I give the artists who do Civil War prints credit for trying to be accurate with places and uniforms, but the colors often don’t appear that natural and sky and shadow aren’t depicted well. The paintings and drawings done during the war have always seemed more interesting, but you never see prints of those for sale.

  • Kevin Levin Feb 18, 2009 @ 7:17

    Sorry to hear that Tom. Why did they move the ceremony away from his birthplace? What happened to the organization?

  • Tom Perry Feb 18, 2009 @ 4:46


    My man Jeb never took a bad photo. I was thinking that Abe and Jeb were two men beards improved.

    If you want to see something sad and funny check out http://www.jebstuart.org. On Stuart’s birthday last week the Jeb Stuart Birthplace, the organization I started, but now avoid at all costs, held a birthday party for the General. This event did not involve the many histories of the site with talks at the site, but was held twenty-five miles away in an antique store in Stuart, Virgina.

    Tom Perry

  • Tom Clemens Feb 17, 2009 @ 14:14

    I spent a little time wondering why you were surprised by this crappy artwork. The name of the game for all of these guys, with a few exceptions, is “crank ’em out” as fast as possible and stick with the big sellers. Did you ever notice there are lots of Lee, Jackson, Stuart, Forrest, Chamberlain prints and very few Meade, Sherman, Grant, McClellan prints? It is all about the $$$. Quality artwork is not important, subject and sentimentality are what pays the bills. I don’t begrudge anybody a living, but I am real selective about what goes on my walls, and I don’t give a hoot about “what it is worth.” My apologies for the rant.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 17, 2009 @ 14:17

      Hi Tom,

      I don’t mind the rant one bit. Of course, I understand what sells, but I am also interested in why certain images sell over others. That’s part of the theme of this blog.

  • Chris Evans Feb 17, 2009 @ 12:41

    I also meant to put that his main site is located at http://wesclark.com/jw/
    The main site has excellent articles on the Civil War in history and memory. And they are very funny too! I am just a fan of his type of humor and I really think he is underrated in the Civil War Online Community.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 17, 2009 @ 12:43

      I’ve been aware of his site for some time. Some of those captions are quite funny. Thanks for including it.

  • Chris Evans Feb 17, 2009 @ 12:10

    The website JonahWorld! has a excellent and hilarious review of Civil War Art. Here is the link: http://wesclark.com/jw/cw_art.html
    His site is very funny and he has been correct about the direction of Modern Civil War Art for a long time. I recommend his site for all who want a good laugh!

  • Eric Wittenberg Feb 17, 2009 @ 11:48

    You’re absolutely right about that one, Kevin. Boy, is that bad.


  • David Rhoads Feb 17, 2009 @ 9:16

    Stuart looks less like a bold cavalier in that painting and more like someone who is uncomfortable and embarrassed about being taken for a pony ride in full public view. The impression is not helped by the fact that the little boy with the wooden sword is holding the horse’s lead.

  • Kevin Levin Feb 17, 2009 @ 7:59

    Peter, — I never thought that he might be superimposing the image. It would definitely explain the resemblance.

    Ken, — Excellent analysis.

  • Ken Noe Feb 17, 2009 @ 7:44

    The woman to the far left just seems absolutely repelled by Stuart, while the man in the black suit immediately to the right of him seems determined not to look at him at all. Throw in the look on Stuart’s face as well as the pointing Johnny Reb, and I’m forced to conclude that some major social faux pas has just transpired.

  • Peter Feb 17, 2009 @ 6:02

    You’re right, that is hilarious! And, aw, he included a kid and a puppy too. I also strongly suspect he superimposes his painted figures over photographs sometimes. Either way, it’s kind of schlocky if you ask me!

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