A fiery sun is shown breaking through a dark sky. Boulders litter the landscape, while a dirt track, cracked and broken, runs through the foreground. In the distance, two hills are seen, the near sparsely forested and rocky, the far covered in trees. This vivid scene was painted by George Frankenstein in 1866, and is an excellent example of atmospheric perspective, as the warm colors in the foreground progress to the cooler colors in the background. But why did he choose to present this particular view of the battlefield?
A modern observer might recognize that this scene depicts Little Round Top, the leftmost hill, strewn with rocks. Little Round Top has become famous since the late 19th century when Joshua Chamberlain received the Medal of Honor for commanding of the 20th Maine in a gallant defense, protecting the Union flank from obliteration. This conflict has become ingrained in the national consciousness as one of the turning points of the battle of Gettysburg, and has been immortalized in print and film, including The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara and the 1993 film Gettysburg directed by Ronald Maxwell, among countless other iterations, including a US Army Leadership Manual, FM22-100. But Chamberlain’s heroics did not become widely known until well after Frankenstein’s painting, and the artist’s vantage point is oriented toward the northern face of Little Round Top, not the southern face where the 20th Maine saw action; thus, Frankenstein did not select this scene with the intention of capitalizing on Chamberlain’s fame. Continue reading “George Frankenstein’s Depiction of the Round Tops and the Valley of Death”