Over the years I have looked at thousands of Civil War photographs.  Most are interesting
and many are even extraordinary, but the photo that inspired this piece is one of my
favorites.  The best word that comes to mind when describing it is the word character.  So
when thinking of a tribute to prisoners of the Civil War, I could think of none better than a
recreation of this classic image.

Is it reported that there were more than 400,000 prisoners taken during the war.  The three
men in this piece are perhaps the most famous.  There doesn’t appear to be much
information on who these men were or what became of them, yet most Civil War aficionados
will immediately recognize these three posing men as Confederate prisoners taken at the
battle of Gettysburg.  

I think it is befitting that these men were Confederates, or “rebels“.  They definitely look the
part.  Each man was not content to simply have his picture made, but wanted also to
expressed his unique spirit.  When considering the situation these soldiers were facing at
that moment, it makes the photo even more sublime.  Not only had they been engaged in,
and were captured at, one of the most important battles of the war, but they were also facing
an uncertain future in a Yankee prison.  Yet the circumstances did not rob them of their light
hearts or stop them from having fun.  Perhaps that is why these Johnnie Rebs have become
three of the most famous POW’s in American history, and why their image is still admired
almost 150 years later.

It is easy for those of us who are interested in the Civil War to only concentrate on renown
generals, gallant officers and notable names associated with the era.  But those people were
only a small sliver of the millions of common men who fought and suffered through those four
long years of war.  This piece is about remembering the soldiers, the prisoners, and even
the citizens whose spirits may have bent, but didn’t break, despite the horrible adversities
they faced during that long and bloody conflict.

The fact that this photo was taken at Gettysburg especially draws me to this image.  I believe
it is very fitting to have such an inspiring photograph taken at such a momentous battle.  To
me, Gettysburg is the most interesting battle of the war.  It is also my favorite battlefield to
visit; not only is it historically significant, but its rolling hills and mountains make the site
absolutely beautiful.  As a historical artist, I try to remain as true as possible to my subject,
but my love for this place lead me to add my own dash of creativity which one seldom sees in
my work.  In the actual photograph, the hills and mountains that surround Gettysburg are
barely visible.  In my recreation, I have added a hint of those hazy gray Pennsylvania
mountains in the background.  To me, it just isn’t Gettysburg without them.

While it’s a shame that we do not have much information on the names of these three
soldiers, it may also be for the greater good.  In a way, the three Johnnies at Gettysburg
could be any man, or every man, who made sacrifices, endured the hardships - and yet
somehow persevered - during those trying times.  One may take it further and say these men
embody the spirit of fortitude that has been demonstrated by American soldiers from every
war.  I can’t help but think of the words printed on the millions of  black and white flags one
might see flying in any American town:  POW ~ MIA: YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN.
Copyright 2013, Victoria Heilshorn
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