Sunday, March 11, 2018

Peace in Union: Galena's Priceless Treasure

         My previous post posed this quiz:  The Smithsonian wants it.  Galena has it.  What is it?

         Any guesses?  See the answer below.  The mystery item is the painting titled Peace in Union, a representation of General Robert E. Lee's surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia on April 9, 1865.

The original Peace in Union.  I'm afraid my photograph doesn't
do justice to this expansive and impressive piece.

         In the early 1890s former Galena resident turned Chicago newspaperman Herman Kohlsaat commissioned artist Thomas Nast to paint Lee's surrender.  Nast was a well-known 19th century illustrator, political cartoonist and artist who originated the images of Uncle Sam and Santa Claus.
         After two years of research Thomas Nast presented his painting to the city of Galena on April 9, 1895, thirty years to the day after the end of the Civil War.

         What sort of research went into this painting?  Nast discovered the different personalities of Grant's Generals, and their reverence for Grant or disdain for Lee or for the proceedings is apparent in their expressions.  Nast also knew that General Lee arrived at the courthouse nattily attired in his best uniform, while General Grant—true to form—sported scuffed boots and a worn jacket.

         These details are easily evident on the massive and impressive original 9'x12' canvas.

         Representatives from the Smithsonian Institution have visited Galena three times to try and convince the good citizens of Galena to sell this painting to the Smithsonian's American History Museum.  But the museum's reps have been unable to put a price on this historic masterpiece, and Galena isn't selling.
         After all, Peace in Union is without doubt the most famous representation of the most important moment in American history.

         Upon entering the Galena and U.S. Grant Museum visitors are escorted into a room to view an introductory video.  Life-size holographic images of Ulysses and Julia Grant appear on the screen to welcome patrons to the museum and to the town.
         Throughout the presentation Julia affectionately refers to Ulysses as "Lyss".   At the end of the video Ulysses turns to the audience and says:
         “History doesn’t just happen, it’s made by people like you and me.”  Yes, that may be true.
         But some folks, “Lyss”, make a lot more history than others.


  1. I noticed the tease in the last post, but didn't know the answer and was happy to see your post with the interesting information about the painting. Again, I admire the way you travel, Rita, with curiosity and appreciation, and I'm glad you share your adventures and learning with us.

    1. It's true that there are so many things to be curious about and to appreciate—wherever my travels take me!
      Thanks for your kind words, Janet.

  2. Don’t recall where, but know that I’ve seen that painting . . . perhaps in one of my textbooks in high school or college??

    Regardless, I never would have guessed that the original painting of Lee’s surrender is the exclusive property of the Galena History Museum.

    Thank you for sharing the results of your research into this fascinating piece of American history. I learn something from each of your blog postings, and for that you are to be highly commended.


    1. Hi John,

      An image of this painting has appeared in textbooks throughout the world.

      Also, The US Postal Service issued a series of stamps in 2015 commemorating the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.

      Peace in Union appears on a stamp issued on April 9, 2015—150 years to the day after the official surrender.

      I'm pleased that you find my posts informative and educational. Thanks so much for your comments!

  3. I remember a picture of Gen Lee's surrender from my school days but it was probably another picture, with people sitting around. But I remember this picture also from somewhere.

    Should hope the town never let go of such a grand heritage.
    Thank you, Rita for an awesome post

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    3. Hi Soumyendu,

      Good to hear from you! I believe this painting is secure in Galena (population of only 3500 people) for the foreseeable future. It truly is Galena's priceless treasure.