Sculptor James E. Kelly (1855 - 1933)
James E. Kelly would sculpt many of the portrait statues dedicated to “hero’s” of the American Civil War. His career would span 60 years, but much of his inspiration was the personal conversations he would hold with these “hero’s.”
Born in New York City in 1855, Kelly was a small boy during the Civil War. As the country was engaged in war, Kelly was surrounded by the sights and sounds of war. Soldiers filling the streets of New York , news of the war, even the Draft Riots of 1863. All of this would be the basis for his lifetime love of history.
Kelly's artistic interest would begin as a small boy, creating pencil sketches of historical composition. In 1874, he would enroll and study at the Academy of Design in New York City and was one of the founders of the Art Students League.
Employed as a wood engraver for several magazines, Kelly's reputation as an engraver and attention to detail grew. Picking up the artist's brush, one of Kelly's early paintings was of "Sheridan's Ride." When the painting was finished, Kelly saw the opportunity to create a statue. Modeling in wax, Kelly would produce what General Phil Sheridan himself would state about his likeness "is marvelously good."
With the success of this sculpture, Kelly moved towards the art of sculpting. His love of history would lead him to sculpt many historic figures and events of early American History. These would include "Paul Revere's Ride", "Molly Picher" as well as the "Buford Monument" dedicated at Gettysburg in July, 1895.
A recently published book, Generals in Bronze edited by William B. Styple covers the life of Kelly. Kelly would have the opportunity to interview many famous soldiers from the Civil War.
Kelly would hold casual conversation with these men while making sketches in preparation of a painting or bronze. He would then document his thoughts and conversations for future reference. Kelly's notes were hidden away but now are wonderfully reproduced in Styple's book.
"General Fitzhugh's Charge"
Original Sketch by James E. Kelly
The bronze panel on the front (west side) of the monument is not of a charge made at Gettysburg. It actually portrays Colonel Charles Lane Fitzhugh leading the 6th New York Cavalry in an attack believed to be at Five Forks in 1865.
Kelly, determined to portray this event as accurately as possible will use the likeness of Fitzhugh in the panel. Also, Kelly would use a daguerreotype of the fatally wounded color bearer passing the colors to a comrade as he falls. In addition, the man that received the colors was asked by Kelly to pose for him so he could recreate both of their portraits.
Original monument dedication ribbon (2 5/8" x 8") for the 6th NY Cavalry Monument. These ribbons were often given to the veterans as a memento of the event.
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