A Civil War Prisoner’s Dream

A very Happy New Year to all! Now that Steven Spielberg’s new hit film Lincoln, based in part on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, is out and we are nearly midway through the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, perhaps it is time to blog about the sculptor of another work featured in the KOAR image header (above), the marble bust of Abraham Lincoln.

Albert P. Henry was born in Versailles, Kentucky, on January 8, 1836. His parents moved to Princeton, in the Pennyrile region of western Kentucky, when he was young. Henry demonstrated an interest in art early 1940.39in life. According to information gathered in the 1920s from family members in Washington, D.C., and Kentucky, while still a boy Henry used a block of marble thrown from a steamboat to carve an ambitious group sculpture composed of an Indian girl holding a dove while a wolf creeps up to snatch the bird from her grasp; though crude, the proportion and perspective were said to be well expressed. Henry started his business career as a clerk in the Hillman Iron Works, where he occupied his leisure time by modeling small portrait busts and casting them in iron to be used as weights to keep doors open.

At the outbreak of the Civil War Henry, commissioned as a captain, joined the 15th Regiment, Kentucky Cavalry (Volunteer) organized in the fall of 1862 at Owensboro and mustered into United States service at Paducah on October 6. The Confederate Forts Henry and Donelson, which guarded the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers respectively, had fallen in February of that year to Ulysses S. Grant, supported by Andrew Foote’s Western Flotilla of four ironclads and three “timberclads”, opening Tennessee to Union invasion and occupation. After the leader of the 15th Kentucky Cavalry, Lieut. Col. Gabriel Netter, was killed in 1863 the command passed on to Henry, by now a lieutenant colonel.

Henry was captured at Spring Creek, Tennessee, on June 29, 1863, when his horse was shot from under him during a skirmish near Fort Henry. He was taken to Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. It was primarily an 1940.1.41.1officer’s prison but by 1863 there were over 1,000 men crowded into large rooms on two floors with open, barred windows that left them exposed to weather and temperature extremes. The prisoners cooked their own sparse rations (beef, bacon, flour, beans, rice and vinegar) with inadequate fuel; there also was a shortage of clothing and blankets. In the Libby Chronicle, a newsletter written by inmates that summer, an ironic poem entitled “Castle Thunder“ voiced the humor that could be found even amid such harsh living conditions:

     We have eighteen kinds of food, though ‘twill stagger your belief,
     Because we have bread, beef and soup, then bread, soup and beef;
     Then we sep’rate around with ’bout twenty in a group,
     And thus we get beef, soup and bread, and beef, bread and soup;
     For dessert we obtain, though it costs us nary red,
     Soup, bread and beef, (count it well) and beef and soup and bread.

While confined in Libby Prison for nine months, Henry devoted much of his time to carving the bones of oxen, often used to obtain bone fat (by boiling fresh bones split open lengthways) for making soap. He managed to smuggle some of these carvings from the prison in a wooden box with a false bottom. Among them was a cup upon which he had carved The Prisoner’s Dream, showing on its lower portion the interior of a cell with an armed sentry at the door while the prisoner sleeps on the floor, using his boots for a pillow; above this is carved the tranquil scenes from his dreams. There is a black-and-white photographic print of Henry wearing his Civil War uniform in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division; a digital image of this full-length standing portrait can be viewed online at: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002714668/

After the close of the war Henry was appointed consul at Anconia, Italy. Before leaving the 1943.1.1LUnited States, however, he already had executed marble busts of Kentucky’s Senator Henry Clay and President Abraham Lincoln from life. Although comparatively unknown as a sculptor, Henry’s small bust of Senator Clay was acquired about 1865 by the Library Committee of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., for the Office of the Architect; it later was placed in the room of the Senate Committee for many years, then put on display in the Hall of the House of Representatives. The bust of Lincoln was located in the Custom House at Louisville; from there it was “Deposited by Citizens of Louisville” at the J.B. Speed Art Museum according to a 1949 exhibition catalogue, which can be found at:
    https://speedweb.speedmuseum.org/pdfs/portrait.pdf
(This is one of many publications available through the KOAR website, at:
    http://www.koar.org/publications.htm)

While in Italy Henry spent a considerable amount of 1930.54time in Florence, where he studied under sculptors Hiram Powers and Joel Tanner Hart. It was during this period abroad that his most ambitious work was done, an idealized bust of internationally acclaimed American singer and actress Genevieve Ward. She began her career as an operatic star in Milan and Paris but after losing her singing voice due to illness in 1862 had turned to acting. Ward was one of many engaging American women expatriates in England during the late Victorian and Edwardian periods between around 1870 and the end of World War I; they were educated, nearly all moneyed, and distinctive for being outsiders free from many of the social constraints that restricted English women of that time. Henry’s portrait bust of Genevieve 1952.13was a celebrated work of art in Louisville, displayed proudly in the reception room of the historic Galt House (illustrated here in a lithograph printed on a silk handkerchief) on the occasion Ulysses S. Grant’s official visit to Louisville in 1879.

On her 84th birthday on March 27, 1921, the year before her death, Genevieve Ward was created Dame Commander of the British Empire. Although born just a year earlier, by then Albert P. Henry had been gone nearly fifty years; he died on November 6, 1872, in Paris, Kentucky.

One Response to A Civil War Prisoner’s Dream

  1. Doug Fisher says:

    I acquired a marble portrait bust in 1999 that is almost certainly by Albert Henry. Purchased at the Heart of Dixie antique show in Nashville, TN, the dealer had recently bought it at an estate auction across the river and had not researched the piece. It was only aftersome time and a visit to the Speed Museum that I realized the significance. It is very similar to the Genevieve Ward bust, with slightly different hair, and bears the same signature lyre at the base of the torso.

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