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AlbertJayNock

An interesting historical anecdote


I recently finished reading Lee And Grant , a biography of the two opposing civil war generals, by Gene Smith. It's a pretty good mix of biographical material and detailed accounts of civil war battles.

One amusing factoid I picked up is that the painter James Whistler (or little Jimmy Whistler as he was then called) attended West Point while Robert E. Lee was superintendent there. Lee eventually kicked him out. It appears to be due to the following incident in a drawing class:

Told to produce diagrams for a water crossing, Cadet Whistler put in a bridge with two little boys sitting on it. He was informed that the addition of children to the bridge was unnecessary. He erased them and transferred to shore. He was told to get rid of them. His final drawing showed the bridge and shore empty of  living forms. Two little graves were drawn in the distance.


This appears to be the "misconduct in drawing class" mentioned on the wikipedia page.

This anecdote is almost too interesting to be true. It might not be, but in other places the author shows himself to be fairly discerning. He specifically refutes a couple of commonly held wrong beliefs about the civil war, such as the notion that prostitutes are called hookers because of General Joseph Hooker's fondness for them. (Smith points out that the term existed before General Hooker's escapades).
He also points out that Lincoln never said that if Grant was a drunk it would be a good idea to send his other generals a case of Grant's favorite whiskey. I actually thought that was true until I read this book.

At any rate, if the Whistler anecdote is true, we all owe  Robert E. Lee a debt of gratitude for kicking Whistler out. We might have lost a great artist if Whistler had been allowed to continue in a mediocre military career.  Of course, Lee  probably hurt his own cause. If someone with Whistler's lack of military discipline had risen through the ranks, the North might have lost the war between the states.
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