Tag Archives: Lloyd Branson

Fort Sanders sesquicentennial for Black Friday

In 1863 Nov. 29 fell on a Sunday instead of a Friday, but it was a pretty black day nonetheless, at least for the hapless Rebel soldiers who launched a disastrous assault against Fort Sanders at Knoxville.  Those twenty bloody minutes ended Longstreet’s effort to re-take the city for the Confederacy, following its occupation by Burnside that September.

The attack on Ft. Sanders was neither a particularly big battle as far as Civil War engagements went nor as consequential as what was going on down in Chattanooga.  But it’s a pretty big deal for history buffs here in my neck of the woods, so here’s another anniversary link-fest for you.

  • Knoxville’s own historical columnist Jack Neely on the assault
  • The Knoxville News-Sentinel‘s sesquicentennial coverage of the war in East Tennessee
  • If you haven’t seen the McClung Museum’s exhibit on Ft. Sanders, you should definitely check it out.  They have fossils, too!  (By the way, that new Edmontosaurus is now called “Monty.”)
  • The East Tennessee Historical Society has some nifty Civil War displays of their own, and they’re commemorating the Ft. Sanders anniversary with a free admission day.
  •  Need to read up on the contest for control of Knoxville?  I recommend The Knoxville Campaign by Earl Hess, Lincolnites and Rebels by Robert Tracy McKenzie, and Divided Loyalties by Digby Gordon Seymour.  For additional background, try Noel Fisher’s War at Every Door and W. Todd Groce’s Mountain Rebels.
  • Last year we paid a virtual visit to the site of the battle.  The fort is long gone, but there are still a few landmarks from the Knoxville Campaign around.  Click here to book a guided tour, or stop by Longstreet’s headquarters and the Mabry-Hazen House.
  • Watch the battle reenacted at a replicated Ft. Sanders, constructed for a documentary produced in conjunction with the McClung Museum’s exhibit.
  • And finally, here’s a depiction of the attack by Lloyd Branson, the same Tennessee artist who did the painting of the Sycamore Shoals muster at the top of this blog:

Wikimedia Commons

1 Comment

Filed under Appalachian History, Civil War, Tennessee History

Bad dude, small world

The Knoxville News Sentinel has been celebrating its birthday with a retrospective of notable stories from its century-and-a-quarter-long run.  A recent article highlights one of the more colorful episodes in Knoxville history.

On the night of Dec. 13, 1901 two police officers tried to break up a brawl in one of the city’s less reputable establishments and ended up getting shot by one of the participants, who managed to flee the scene despite being beaten over the head withe the officers’ clubs.  The shooter was later arrested and subsequently identified as Harvey Logan, alias Kid Curry—one of the most notorious members of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch gang.  He had been traveling throughout the country passing off notes taken in a Montana train holdup before his pool hall fight landed him in a Tennessee jail.

Logan’s trial turned into one of the twentieth century’s first legal media circuses, and ended in the summer of 1903 when he managed to snag a jail guard’s neck with a wire and make off with the sheriff’s horse.  You can read the full story in the book Harvey Logan in Knoxville by Sylvia Lynch, who happens to be my mom.

The Sentinel article notes that Logan refused to have his picture taken, so the newspaper recruited an East Tennessee artist to visit the jail and produce a sketch to run on the front page.  The artist was Lloyd Branson.  Loyal readers of this blog might recall that Branson’s name has appeared here before.  He painted the famous picture of the Sycamore Shoals muster preceding the Battle of King’s Mountain that now hangs in the Tennessee State Museum and adorns the banner at the top of this site, and he also depicted the battle itself in a painting which burned in a Knoxville hotel fire.

I told my mom about this, and she mentioned that she’d discussed Branson’s sketch of Logan in her book.  I pulled a copy off the shelf, and sure enough, there was a picture of Lloyd Branson working on a self-portrait.  So when I was a teenager, before I had any inkling that I’d study history, my mom wrote a book about an outlaw who got his picture drawn by Lloyd Branson, and then years later I wrote my thesis about a Revolutionary War campaign which was the subject of two paintings by Lloyd Branson.  I then realized that Lloyd Branson stands at the nexus of all that is.

1 Comment

Filed under Appalachian History, Tennessee History

Lloyd Branson’s lost King’s Mountain painting

The good news is that—as you may have noticed—I managed to restore my nifty header image of the overmountain men’s muster at Sycamore Shoals, which kicked off the events leading to the Battle of King’s Mountain.  I’ve discussed this painting and why I like it before, so I’m glad to have a segment of it gracing the top of the blog again.

Here’s the bad news.  Lloyd Branson, the East Tennessee artist who produced this beautiful piece, also painted a scene of the actual battle, which decorated the lobby of Knoxville’s swanky Hotel Imperial.  (An early travel booklet described the Imperial as “beautifully furnished,” and noted that the food was particularly good.)  During WWI the hotel went up in flames and took Branson’s King’s Mountain painting with it.  The loss of the Imperial inspired three Knoxvillians to build a brand-new hotel which opened shortly thereafter, but of course nobody could replace Branson’s canvas.

I’ve been unable to find a picture or description of it.  It’s a shame we don’t have the other “bookend” of Branson’s visual depiction of the King’s Mountain expedition, especially since the muster painting is one of Tennessee’s definitive historical artworks.

1 Comment

Filed under American Revolution, Tennessee History

A look behind the banner

Ah, the banner—that nifty picture strip that runs along the top of so many sites and blogs with a dash of personalized flair.  Maybe you’ve been wondering where I got mine.  If you guessed that it’s from Lloyd Branson’s painting Gathering of the Overmountain Men at Sycamore Shoals, 1780, now in the fabulous Tennessee State Museum, then give yourself a pat on the back.

Branson was born in East Tennessee in 1854, studied at the National Academy of Design, and travelled in Europe before returning home to become one of his state’s most accomplished artists of the late 1800′s and early 1900′s.  Like many of his contemporaries, Branson mostly did portraits, but occasionally he produced landscapes and historic scenes like this one.   

Here’s the best digital version of the painting that I could locate, from the website of another fine (but much more recent) Tennessee artist, Bill Puryear:

Sycamore Shoals, now a state park, is a shallow stretch of the Watauga River in present-day Elizabethton and the site of several significant events in early Tennessee history.  Probably the most famous of these events is the one depicted here, the muster of the militia from present-day Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia on September 25-26, 1780 that marked the beginning of the King’s Mountain expedition.  Pick up any book that deals with King’s Mountain or with the first Tennessee settlements, and you’re likely to find an evocative description of the muster—the overmountain men wearing their hunting shirts and leaning on their rifles, the women gathered to see them off, and Rev. Samuel Doak delivering his famous “Sword of the Lord and Gideon” sermon before the march.  (The other notable Sycamore Shoals moments were the formation of Tennessee’s first proto-government, the treaty conference at which the Cherokees sold much of present-day Kentucky and the lands on which the East Tennessee settlements stood, and an Indian attack on nearby Ft. Watauga.)  When I was shopping around for an image to embellish the top of the blog, this seemed like an abvious choice.  You’ve got your American Revolution, and you’ve got your East Tennessee setting. 

Lately I considered finding a new picture to spruce things up a little, but I finally decided not to, partly because this painting touches on a few of my main interests.  Furthermore, I think you can read into it some valuable lessons about the practice of history in general. 

For example, this is a military scene, but it’s situated far from the actual battlefield.  The fighting men are surrounded by their wives, children, and neighbors.  It’s a reminder that wars happen within the framework of the societies that wage them, and you’ve got to understand that context to understand the war. 

At the same time, however, the painting undeniably and unapologetically focuses on a military turning point.  This isn’t an everyday scene from life on the Tennessee frontier, it’s an occasion in which armed men intervened decisively in a particular historical episode.  Battles are important because they decide great issues.

Here’s another observation.  Important figures are visible in the painting; Isaac Shelby, an architect of the King’s Mountain expedition, is in the foreground.  At the same time, though, most of the people in the picture are anonymous.  Their faces are barely visible; we can see that they’re present, but so much about them is unknown.  They held no high rank in the battle, and they filled no major office after the war, unlike Shelby and fellow King’s Mountain officer John Sevier, both of whom went on to become governors.  History is made by the actions of a few great men as well as the aggregate actions of many anonymous ones.

In a lot of ways, it’s a very traditional image, depicting as it does an event that’s glorified in so many heroic nineteenth-century narratives.  But it’s also realisitc, not nearly as idealized and stylized as some of the very earliest depictions of Revolutionary War scenes.

Of course, I don’t know exactly what meanings Branson wanted to convey when he painted the muster at Sycamore Shoals.  But I like the fact that his painting includes so much of what makes up the sum total of history—war and peace, leaders and followers, the traditions that have become familiar and the surprisingly complex realities underneath.

1 Comment

Filed under American Revolution, Colonial America, History and Memory, Tennessee History