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1998 "After the Snow" by Mort Kunstler

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It was a brief interlude of peace and security amid the long winter of war. Located at a critical point on the North-South invasion route through the Shenandoah Valley, historic Winchester, Virginia was repeatedly occupied by invading armies. Happily for the residents of the town, the New Year of 1862 found Winchester in Confederate control. Under the protection of friendly forces, Winchester's citizens could strive to make the days of war as normal and tolerable as possible. Bedecked by a mantle of fresh snow, Winchester's courthouse looked much as it did in the days of pre-war peace. Children were free to romp in the snow. Women could gather unafraid outside Loudoun Street's shops. Passing troops, however, were a constant reminder that the peace was fragile and fleeting.

Winchester's wartime tranquility would end in the spring of this year, when Northern troops under General Nathaniel P. Banks would occupy the lower Shenandoah Valley. Although Banks and his Federal army would be vanquished by General "Stonewall" Jackson and his Confederates at the First Battle of Winchester, the blue-uniformed forces would return. Bloody battles would be fought at Winchester again in 1863 and 1864. Always, the invading armies returned. Finally, in 1864, General Philip Sheridan and his Federal cavalry laid waste to much of the Shenandoah Valley. It was a campaign of devastation - a harsh blow against the civilians of the Valley - so brutal that Winchester residents would describe it for generations simply as "the Burning." In early January of 1862, however, the cruelest wages of war were still unimaginable in the Southern states. Like the residents of Winchester, Virginia, most Southerners still held high hopes for an early peace and a happy homecoming for the sons of the South.

Mort Künstler's Comments:

For nearly ten years, I have wanted to paint the courthouse in Winchester. With a fenced-in area that was used by both the North and South to contain prisoners, and with Winchester constantly changing hands, the courthouse was in frequent use.

By painting the scene in winter (when the front courtyard was not full of prisoners), I could focus on the courthouse and also try to incorporate some of the other buildings in the area.

The courthouse, built in 1840, has changed very little since the Civil War days. The only pictorial evidence I had were the drawings by James E. Taylor in his sketchbook, Traveling With Sheridan Up the Valley. He depicts the courthouse in two sketches that are very informative but also presented problems. In his two drawings, a fan shaped window was placed inside the triangular shaped facade under the roof and above the columns. There is no evidence of that window today. I was certain that no artist would take time to paint in a window unless it was actually there. However, historian Ben Ritter of Winchester felt that Taylor could have mixed up his buildings when he got back to his studio to execute his final drawings. Ben told me Taylor had made mistakes of that sort in other drawings and paintings based on his on-the-spot notes and unfinished sketches. Ben consulted with Maral Kalbian, Architectural Historian, who stated that she did not believe there ever was a fan shaped window, which was more appropriate for a Jeffersonian-inspired Roman Revival-style building and not the Greek Revival style of the courthouse.

I argued the point of an artist doing work that was not necessary. Ben then asked the town clerk's office to examine the inside of the courthouse and they confirmed no evidence of a fan shaped window. If Taylor had been able to spend more time, I am sure he would have been more accurate, but traveling with an army as a sketch artist presents additional problems.

The C.E. Taylor & Co. (no relation) Bakery is on the left where the F&M Bank stands today. The building on the extreme right was the Senseny Building during the Civil War. It is now the Feltner Building, corporate headquarters of the F&M Bank. To the right of the courthouse in the far background, with the arches, is the Market House. Behind the Senseny building are the Clerk's office and the office of the Winchester Virginian.

According to James I. Robertson, Jr., Alumni distinguished professor at Virginia Tech, on January 6, 1862, Winchester had a four-inch snowfall. It is 4:50 p.m., about fifteen minutes before sunset and the sun has just popped out before setting. as the storm passes off to the northeast. Sadly, the storms clouds of war would not go away so easily.


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