The Columns

W&L Receives Major Collection of Images on Anniversary of Lee's Surrender at Appomattox

— by on April 10th, 2015

Coinciding with the 150th anniversary of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, Washington and Lee University has received the gift of a rare collection of 29 vintage prints and original graphics depicting the historic event. It is arguably the most comprehensive collection of such images — all of immaculate museum quality and including two original works by artists of the period.

James and Mary Holland, of Shepherdstown, West Virginia, collectors and scholars, gifted the “James Clarence and Mary Griset Holland Collection” to Washington and Lee without restrictions, except that the University make it available as a study collection and occasionally exhibit it.

One of the original works in the collection was described as a national treasure by Thomas Camden, associate professor and head of Special Collections at W&L. It is a watercolor by Benjamin West Clinedinst (1859–1931) of a crucial moment in the discussions, when Grant was writing down the terms of surrender; it captures the deeply pensive state of mind of both Lee and his aide-de-camp Lt. Col. Charles Marshall. The evocative painting was created 32 years after the event to illustrate “Campaigning with Grant,” the 1897 military memoir of Grant’s aide, Lt. Col. Horace Porter. “Lee is depicted in momentary isolation with thoughts that he would take to his grave. It is impossible to recall another passage of American history charged with comparable drama,” said James Holland.

The painting appeared in two other publications, but then disappeared from public view for more than a century. “I discovered this precious masterpiece in a large, crowded bin in a shop in New York 50 years ago,” recalled Holland. The painting is part of a current exhibit, “Lee in the Field,” in W&L’s Lee Chapel Museum, which is free and open to the public.

The prints in the collection were created by Northern printmakers to celebrate the victory of the Union Army. Holland observed that many of the prints nevertheless depict Robert E. Lee as more attentive than Grant in his thoughtful, dignified submission to the inevitable.

The other original work in the collection is a pen-and-ink drawing by Hughson Hawley (1850–1936) of the small village of Appomattox Court House, as it looked in April 1865. “The fact that the original courthouse there perished in flames in 1892 adds to its importance,” said Holland. “We wanted this collection to be in a place associated with Lee’s life, and his work in expanding what is now Washington and Lee University into a fine institution,” he continued.

“These works of art are extraordinary, and this is a very generous gift that the University greatly appreciates,” said Camden. “It is important to note that the surrender at Appomattox was an American event, not a North-South event. While it marked the end of a bitter struggle, it also marked the beginning of a massive reconciliation effort that is still ongoing today.”

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