Bravest of the Brave
Image Size: 18" x 20 1/2". Overall Size: 24" x 25 1/2".
Description of the Black Horse Cavalry:
In their care was placed the fate of a new nation. They composed a single company of the 4th Virginia Cavalry - but they were better known as the Confederate "Black Horse Cavalry." Raised in Virginia's Fauquier County, they had answered the Southern call to arms in 1861, and had immediately distinguished themselves in combat. At the Battle of First Manassas, their hammer-like strike against Federal troops at Cub Run had helped turn the Northern retreat into a panicky rout. Their calm courage under fire eventually earned them a unique post of honor: scouts to protective escorts for the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, General Robert E. Lee, and his irreplaceable "right arm," General Stonewall Jackson.
In the winter of 1862-63, their wartime duty had become personal: the war had come to their homes. A mammoth Northern army had poured into their native counties in a campaign to destroy Lee's army. Now, as the scouts of Lee's army, the Black Horse Cavalry did double duty, mounting repeated reconnaissance patrols, pinpointing Federal positions - and thus defending their homeland. Deep snows and winter downpours left the roads in the Warrenton region almost impassable at times, but the Black horse Cavalry always found a way through. When high waters flooded the region's waterways, they found a way across. When food and forage were dangerously low, they kept going. The troops of the Black Horse Cavalry, said their admirers, were "the bravest of the brave." In the winter of 1863, they kept Lee posted on the movements of the enemy, conducted countless bold raids - and captured hundreds of Northern troops. They defended their homes, served their commander - and did their duty. On February 28, 1863, General Lee officially cited them for their efforts and sacrifices. The "bravest of the brave" - the Black Horse Cavalry - had lived up to their name.
Mort Künstler's Comments:
In 1990, the idea of painting the Black Horse Cavalry was proposed to me for the first time. In the intervening years the suggestion has been continually repeated. Finally, In November 1998, I went to Warrenton, Va., and met with Lynn Hopewell, the resident expert on the Black Horse. I learned that this famous cavalry unit was a pre-war cavalry company, raised in Warrenton, Fauquier County, Virginia in 1859. Capt. John Scott was the company's first organizer and first commander. It was later designated Company H of the 4th Virginia Cavalry and participated in all of the campaigns of the Army of Northern Virginia from 1861 to 1865.
As Mr. Hopewell graciously showed me all the points of interest in Warrenton, I was immediately struck by the charm and beauty of the town. Of all the structures in Warrenton, the one that jumped out at me was the courthouse. The present building is the fourth structure on the site, which replaced the third structure built in 1854. That building was burnt down in 1889 in an accidental fire started by bonfires celebrating election returns. Fortunately, the present courthouse, still in use, was rebuilt from the old plans and on the old walls so that it looks very much like the Civil War era structure. The courthouse spire can be seen from a large surrounding area, as it is located on the highest spot in town, and is situated on several converging roads. The more I studied the building, the more I became aware that its beauty demanded it be the main backdrop in the painting.
It then became apparent to me that the most dramatic way to show off the black horses was against white. I came up with the idea of snow and bright moonlight which also set off the white and yellow of the courthouse.
Sgt. Robert Edward Martin, the second rider from the right, is silhouetted against the light in the window of the courthouse. He was presented with a fine rifle, a gift of an admiring Englishman, as being the bravest man in Lee's Army. Martin thus became the "Bravest of the Brave", the title of Mr. Hopewell's forthcoming book on the Black Horse Cavalry as well as the inspiration for the title to this painting.
Based on the knowledge that the troop was in Warrenton during the winter of 1862-63 and constantly on patrol, we checked with James Robertson, Jr., distinguished alumni Professor at Virginia Tech for a suitable date. He confirmed there was a snowfall on Feb. 22, 1863.
I hope this painting calls attention to one of the South's most beautiful courthouses and gives more recognition to the Black Horse Cavalry, "The Bravest of the Brave."