Vets Finding Vets: An Unexpected Find

A recent re-find of a collection of documents once belonging to the James Hall Camp 111 Sons of (Civil War) Veterans, while mostly documents and bank records, also included a framed label describing a gift to the James M. Brown Grand Army of the Republic. I hadn’t remembered seeing it before, but it was a welcome sight. The gift was presented on July 4, 1923, during the very first meeting of the GAR, which took place in the drawing room of the Fenton Mansion. It was presented by the daughters of Reuben and Elizabeth, Josephine Gifford, and Jeanette Gilbert.

Those of you who are interested in the newsletter articles of the old Veterans will remember that July 4th was Governor Fenton’s birthday, and 1923 was the earliest the Fenton Mansion was opened for the Veteran groups to begin meeting. The framed label refers to a famous painting gifted in 1866 to Gov. Fenton by “friends”, who remain nameless even to this day. While it was undoubtedly first displayed in the drawing room where they held meetings, today it can be seen on the second floor, to the left of the door leading to the Military Exhibit. The painting itself is 52”by 30”, but the massive and beautiful frame is 60” by 43” and is titled “An Army Supply Train in the Shenandoah Valley” (during the Civil War). The artist was Johannes A. Oertel, famous in his day and 4 years younger than Gov. Fenton. He was born in Bavaria in 1823 and came to America at the age of 25 as a clergyman.

Shenandoah Valley, VA, was a unique area, camouflaged by mountains on each side, where troops from the North and the South wanted control. Union troops needed to protect Washington, DC, and Confederate troops wanted to seize Washington. The fact that the railroad tracks had been sabotaged by both the North and the South, would, of course, necessitate horse and wagon trains of food and supplies badly needed by the soldiers. The final Union success there in 1864 is said to have hastened the end of the Civil War, and perhaps that is why it was seen as the perfect gift for Gov. Fenton.

Johannes A. Oertel was famous for his ministry and his art during his amazing lifetime. To read more, follow this link.

And, just so you know, the Sons and Daughters of the Civil War Veterans also met in the Mansion. The Sons met the same night as the GAR, also in the Drawing Room, in order to be of service to their aged fathers.

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