Local history experts and dignitaries gathered at the Creekridge home of philanthropists Allan and Janie Jones on Thursday evening to get an up-close look at Don Troiani’s painting of Charleston’s Henegar House.
Troiani was commissioned by The Allan Jones Foundation in early 2011 to create the piece, titled “Sherman Leaving the Henegar House — December 1, 1863.”
Jones said he chose the Henegar House as the subject of the Troiani work because it was the most historic house in Bradley County.
The businessman admits that he had a difficult time deciding to include Gen. William Sherman in the painting because his ancestors were all Confederates. He eventually put his personal feelings aside for the sake of historical accuracy.
“At various times during the Civil War, the Henegar House served as headquarters for Confederate Generals Marcus Wright and Simon Bolivar Buckner, as well as for Union Generals Sherman and Oliver Howard,” Jones said. “Sherman spent the night at the Henegar House on Nov. 30, 1863, and was there when he received orders to take command of the column moving to relieve Knoxville.”
The house is named after Capt. Henry B. Henegar, who served as a secretary for the 11th Detachment under Chief John Ross and was the owner of the house.
“Mrs. Henegar was a Confederate sympathizer and Mr. Henegar was a Union sympathizer, which made for a tense night,” Jones said.
He pointed out the Henegar House was the site of a famous back porch conversation between Mrs. Henegar and Sherman, in which the general advised Mrs. Henegar to leave the South and said that when he was finished with it, “There would not be enough left for the birds to eat.”
Mrs. Henegar rejected Sherman’s advice and declared that her family would not abandon Tennessee.
During the Creekridge event on Thursday evening, guests were entertained as the famous conversation was re-enacted by Joe and Karen Barkley, a husband and wife who dressed in period clothing as Sherman and Mrs. Henegar. The pair have traditionally been a part of re-enactments involving Charleston in the past.
“Over the years, Karen has conducted extensive research regarding Mrs. Henegar and the lives of women in East Tennessee during the Civil War,” Barkley said. “The dialogue we performed at Creekridge between Mrs. Henegar and Sherman was based on the actual dialogue recorded by Mrs. Henegar’s daughter.”
After the re-enactment, Jim Ogden, chief historian for Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, addressed the crowd and spoke about the historical events that took place in Cleveland and Charleston during the Civil War.
Troiani, who was given artistic control of the painting by Jones, eventually decided against depicting the back porch scene and instead chose to include a front view of the Henegar House on the morning of Dec. 1, 1863, as Sherman looks out at his 63,000 troops and a horse that has been prepared for him.
The general was preparing to leave Bradley County on the way to Knoxville, Jones said.
During his research for the painting, Troiani located Sherman’s records from the war and was able to determine that the temperature on Dec. 1 was a frigid 27 degrees.
“Sherman actually wrote that ‘the mud puddles were frozen,’” Jones said. “In the painting, Don has dressed the troops accordingly.”
Research for the painting also came from a meeting with Raymond Evans, author of the book “Struggle on the Hiawassee,” Jones said.
The painting becomes only the second Troiani painting with a Tennessee scene. The artist spent time in Charleston last year conducting research.
Special replicas of the painting were presented to officials from Cleveland High School, the Museum Center at Five Points and the Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society during Thursday’s event. The society plans to display the replica inside the Charleston Heritage Center once the center opens in August.
On hand at the event were Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland; Cleveland Director of Schools Dr. Martin Ringstaff; Van Deacon, board president of the Museum Center at Five Points; Faye Callaway, president of the Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society; and Tom Roberson, director of Development for the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Ga.
Also on hand at the event were members of the Col. Benjamin Cleveland Chapter of the Tennessee Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, including SAR President Stan Evans and members Phil Newman, David Whaley and Carl Colloms.
Jones noted the Henegar House is located on the site of the Fort Cass barracks, the military headquarters of troops and Gen. Winfield Scott during the occupation of the Cherokee Nation in 1836. The house was built around 1840.
“It has been reported that some of the materials from the Fort Cass barracks were likely used during construction of the Henegar House,” Jones said.
The Henegar House was listed on the National Register in 1976.
Those who attended the event also learned a secret about Troiani’s latest work. The painting contains a current mainstay at the Henegar House, a small mutt named “Chips” that belongs to Natalie Winningham, the owner of the house.
Troiani met the dog during his time in Charleston and determined that the canine was the perfect period dog to be represented in the painting. Jones had requested that a dog be featured, although his own canines would have been historically incorrect for the Troiani piece.
“Chips is very handsome,” Winningham said. “I tell everyone that Chips is a cross between a fox and a coyote. He has a spotted tongue, so he probably has some chow in him.”
Aside from Chips, the painting also contains other secret details that were not made public, according to Jones. The philanthropist did reveal that the newest Troiani painting was noteworthy for its size, 86 inches long and 60 inches high.
“Don told us what his largest painting to date had been, and we asked that the Henegar House piece be two inches larger,” Jones revealed. “This historic work is now the largest painting created by the legendary Troiani.”
Troiani has consistently received praise from art critics and collectors for his attention to detail. The artist owns the largest personal collection of Confederate and Union uniforms in the country.
Troiani’s historic uniforms are hand-sewn by a tailor who specializes in the 18th century for historical accuracy.
Models are chosen with the greatest care to achieve the proper look, and the garb and gear of each figure is painstakingly researched, Jones said. Period settings are also found and researched, sometimes sending Troiani hundreds of miles from home to examine battlefields and structures firsthand.
Each soldier in a Troiani painting has to be suited for posing, Jones noted, since the artist does not paint from memory. Each new painting requires new models and new horses to ensure that no two paintings have any similarity. Even soldiers that appear in the distant background of paintings have to be properly posed, Jones said.
“Because of the great amount of research that goes into one of his paintings, it can sometimes take years before Don’s brush is put to canvas,” Jones explained. “Troiani is regarded as the No. 1 military artist in the world. He will only paint works that are historically accurate. He is the expert the government turns to when they need information for Civil War or Revolutionary War paintings.”
Troiani’s artwork has appeared in “The Washington Post” and “The New York Times.” He was also military advisor on all 52 episodes of A&E and History Channel’s “Civil War Journal.”
Troiani’s next painting will feature Cleveland’s namesake, Col. Benjamin Cleveland. The following painting will depict Gen. John Vaughn, the Confederate general from East Tennessee who fought for the Confederate 62nd Infantry at Vicksburg. The Vaughn painting will also feature Joseph R. Taylor, Jones’ great-great-great-grandfather who served under Vaughn.
Jones has commissioned both works.