In Capitol art debate, don't forget Battle of Nashville

  • Updated: January 26, 2014 - 6:00 PM

STATE CAPITOL ART

Don’t overlook Battle of Nashville

I read with interest Matt Mello’s Jan. 24 commentary about the First Minnesota painting in the State Capitol and hope he wasn’t suggesting that only this painting should be preserved in the governor’s suite (“How does art tell our story?”). While the deeds of these men at Gettysburg were indeed historic and heroic, to say that only their print should remain is a denigration to all the other Minnesota men who also served heroically in the Civil War.

The charge at Gettysburg was great, but it settled nothing. The war went on for two more years with more bloodshed than had occurred up to and at Gettysburg, including battles in which more Minnesota casualties were reported than at Gettysburg.

A few years ago ,while I was visiting the Capitol, a guide was giving a tour to a group of high school students and asked them: “If the fire alarms suddenly went off and the Capitol was burning down, what is the one thing that we are instructed that we need to get out of the Capitol vs. everything else?” Of course no one could answer the question. The guide pointed to the picture of the Battle of Nashville and said, “That picture right there!”

Yes, over time — with all the emphasis on “The Great Lost Cause,” mainly after the war by Southern historians — Gettysburg has become the historical focus of the Civil War for most Americans, including Minnesotans. The First Minnesota has been appropriately recognized in the rising tide. This was not the case in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War.

When it came time to commission the paintings in the governor’s suite, Howard Pyle, the most renowned landscape painter of the era, was selected to do the painting of the Battle of Nashville — not the painting of the Battle of Gettysburg. Today, Pyle’s painting is considered the finest of the Civil War, if not one of the finest paintings of military action of all times, and it has appeared in hundreds of publications.

If indeed a painting is to be preserved, and if the words of the Capitol tour guide are indeed true and this work of art is held in this esteem both historically and as a world-class work of art, why would we remove from the governor’s suite what is considered the most precious item in the Capitol?

It is amazing how time blurs our senses and history.

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