Gibbon, John (1827-1896) to Henry Jackson Hunt
Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02382.053
Author/Creator: Gibbon, John (1827-1896)
Place Written: Omaha, Nebraska
Type: Autograph letter signed
Date: 6 September 1884
Pagination: 8 p. ; 20 x 14.8 cm.
Summary of Content: Signed ”JG.” Describes the Gettysburg Cyclorama, a large painting by Paul D. Philippotteaux, ca. 1882. Mentions, ”I send you a rude sketch...” (not included). The first copy, made in Chicago is now (1993) in private hands. The second copy, made for Boston, was transferred to Gettysburg (ca. 1913) where it currently resides under the care of the National Park Service. Copies 3 (Philadelphia) and 4 (Brooklyn) were destroyed.
Historical Era: Rise of Industrial America, 1877-1900
Full Transcript: Omaha, Sept. 6th ’84, My dear Hunt:, Your last letter reached me whilst out on a time of inspection, and I leave here again on the 10th for Fort McKinney and Washakie: I returned yesterday from Chicago from whence I shipped Mrs G. to Mass. where she will remain till I get back from my trip. She thought she preferred that to remaining here or going back to Laramie Should you go over to Mass. call  and see her at her brothers 505 Madison Av., Whilst in Chicago I went to see the battle of Gettysburg three times, and you may rest assured you have got a sight to see before you die. It is simply wonderful & I never before had an idea that the eye could be so deceived by paint & canvas. I send you a rude sketch giving the arrangement. You enter the building by a dark passageway and staircase A & reach a platform B, and the effect is startling for apparently you look out upon the field of Gettysburg  from a point just behind the middle of my Div. The perspective & representation of the landscape is simply perfect, & I say nothing more than the truth when I tell you it was difficult to disabuse my mind of the impression that I was actually on the ground. They tell a story of some rebel Battery Comdr. whose statement was disputed by some one declaring with an oath that if some one would get him a horse he would ride out there at once to the very place where his battery was! The whole field of Gettysburg  with the country for 15 or 20 miles back is around you. In any ordinary picture your view is limited by the frame, but in this there is no frame, & even the top of the wall upon which the canvas is hung is concealed by a sort of umbrella (C.) suspended over your head with a drop (D) around the edge like the fringe on a lady’s parasol. In this way you look out on the perfectly painted sky & landscape with nothing whatever between you & the landscape. To farther deceive the eye the sloping space  (E) between the stand & bottom of the picture is made of ground in which grass & brushes are growing. Along this slope are scattered various natural objects a hay stack full size, a piece of a stone wall, a gun, one which off. muskets, sabers knapsacks hats &c, & looking at these you are struck by their large size, the gun looks about 10 feet long, a musket 8 or 9 ft. a sabre six, whilst a black fill has looks about the size of a half bushel. The effect of this is to make  the figures on the adjoining canvas look life size altho’ they are only about half size You look right down on the struggle taking place in the angle of the stone wall in the middle of my Div. The men are fighting hand to hand, Cushing as he is falling at his piece is speaking to Webb on horse back whilst I am represented on a prancing sorrell (I rode a grey) with drawn sword waving forward some approaching  Infantry & Hancock is close by, surrounded by his staff a Battery of Arty. is coming up at a gallop & close by [struck: are] you [inserted: are] on an iron grey Maj. Osborne (?) along side of you speaking to a wounded arty. officer on foot. The scene is a very spirited one but not very true to fact & I do not like exactly the way in which the artist has handled the military part of the picture. The attacking force is massed & larger than it was, extends too far to my left, & instead  of representing the left of my Div. coming up on the flank of the assaulting party they come up from the rear & men are represented as leaving the stone wall behind which they were posted [struck: and] and attacking from the right But it’s a wonderful picture & you ought to see it, I shall be away 3 or 4 weeks Bob Williams goes with me & I expect to have a glorious time amongst the Foul, chickens, & deer. Hancock Gaylor sends you his love & says you owe him a letter[.] Let me hear from you again. Very Truly Yours , J.G.
Keywords/Subjects: Battle of Gettysburg;, Union General;, Military History;, Battle;, Union Forces;, Civil War;, Art, Music, Theater, and Film;
Background: Gibbon was loyal to the Union though he had three brothers fighting for the Confederacy. An 1847 West Point graduate. After serving several months as McDowell’s chief artillerist, was granted a brigadier’s star and assigned to the only all-Western brigade serving with the armies in Virginia. Led the brigade at Antietam and was wounded at Fredericksburg while commanding a division. He returned to fight at Chancellorsville and was seriously wounded at Gettysburg on the final day. Returned for the spring 1864 campaign and was mustered out but remained on active duty, serving against the Indians with the Little Big Horn campaign. Hunt was governor of the Soldiers’ Home in Washington, D.C. from 1883 until his death.
LOC Search Terms: United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865., United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Campaigns., United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Military personnel--Union., Generals--Union., Generals--United States--History--19th century., Gettysburg, Battle of, Gettysburg, Pa., 1863., Gettysburg (Pa.)--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.Order Image