Friday, February 10, 2012
Monday, February 6, 2012
It was a cold Sunday November morning in 1863 when the Gwinnett Artillery lead by Captain Tyler Peeples fired the first shot at Fort Sanders. Cannons sounded and the men from Georgia signaled the beginning of the disastrous attack on Union-held Fort Sanders. Now on that same spot, later called Morgan Hill, the University of Tennessee is busy building a new sorority complex. Much has changed since the bloody 1863 battle. Where there were just hills of mud, now interstate highways and modern structures sprout from the landscape. And yet, with the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, those first shots on Fort Sanders are remembered and are depicted in At First Light by historical artist Ken Smith.
“It’s still hard to picture the Battle of Knoxville taking place in that denuded 1863 landscape with all the hustle and bustle of modern Knoxville covering every salient feature of the original ground,” said the artist.
During the excavation of what is believed to be the only known archaeologically confirmed Confederate battle site in Knoxville, Smith was commissioned by the University of Tennessee’s McClung Museum to paint what transpired on Morgan Hill on that infamous morning. This particular event was part of the Siege of Knoxville and ended with over 800 casualties for the Confederate Army, leading to the Confederate retreat from East Tennessee. A reproduction of the painting is currently on display at the museum’s Civil War exhibit and plans also include using the image on a historical marker at the battle site, where 60 feet of the original trench will be preserved once the complex is completed.
Using research from UT’s archeological team, Smith began recreating the moment using period maps and contemporary descriptions to recreate the landscape and conditions that Tyler Peeples and the Gwinnett Artillery faced on that morning in 1863. The artist traveled to Petersburg National Battlefield (Petersburg, VA) to view and photograph one of only two functional Napoleon cannons in the Eastern US. And he recruited accurately garbed reenactors to pose as the Georgia artillerymen.
Smith currently resides in Pulaski, Virginia and is an assistant professor of graphic design at Radford University. Before this, he lived in the Knoxville area for over thirty years and is an alumni of the University of Tennessee. He also holds a MA from Syracuse University (Syracuse, New York), and an MFA from the University of Hartford (Hartford, Connecticut).
At First Light can be seen at the McClung Museum (Knoxville, Tennessee) or on the artist’s website at www.kensmithhistoricalart.com. Limited edition prints are available for purchase. For more information, please contact Ken Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.