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Civil War statue has local ties
Richmond exhibit spotlights Fredericksburg family whose home was looted by Union soldiers in 1862

 Artist Arthur Lumley sketched Union soldiers plundering Fredericksburg buildings, some on fire, on Dec. 12, 1862.
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Date published: 2/4/2011

By CLINT SCHEMMER

RICHMOND

--"The best thing I saw stolen during the war was in Fredericksburg," a Union soldier bragged to his comrade. He described an ornate bronze statue of a "Crusader knight" mounted on horseback, standing 33 inches tall.

His details were so precise that the lady who overheard him in one of Baltimore's public squares realized he was describing the plundered property of her brother, Douglas Hamilton Gordon of Fredericksburg.

Now, that statue is on public view as one of the most remarkable of 200-plus artifacts in the Virginia Historical Society's new exhibition, "An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia."

The show opens today, as the war's 150th anniversary draws near.

Walk into the Richmond museum's Olsson Family Gallery, hang a right into the exhibit's "Surviving War" section, and you can't miss the statue or its incredible story. One corner of that main gallery is devoted to telling the tale, so representative of the travail that civilians faced during the four-plus years when armies battled across Virginia, splitting the state in two.

CIVILIANS SUFFER

The Gordons' ordeal began in December 1862 when Gen. Robert E. Lee's 75,000 Confederates halted a Union army of 110,000 soldiers at Fredericksburg, then a community of 5,000.

Lee ordered women and children to evacuate Fredericksburg for their safety, as Union forces prepared to attack from across the Rappahannock River.

Civilians took refuge in churches, barns and tents. Among them were Anne Gordon, her husband, Douglas, and their three children.

'BROKEN AND SMASHED'

Returning later to their home, the Gordons found "every room torn with shot, and all the elegant furniture and works of art broken and smashed."

One resolute soldier carried off the Gordons' heavy bronze replica of a European statue of Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy, a 16th-century soldier-prince.

The Gordons, one of Fredericksburg's wealthiest families, had acquired it on a wedding trip to Italy.

The original, giant version of the statue by Turin-born sculptor Carlo Marochetti dominates the Piazza San Carlo in Turin, Italy.

Other major works by Marochetti are displayed in London's Westminster Abbey and the British Museum.


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WHAT: "An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia."

WHEN, WHERE: Exhibition opens today, closes Dec. 30. Admission is free. Virginia Historical Society, 428 North Boulevard, Richmond. HOURS: Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday 1-5 p.m. INFO: vahistorical.org; 804/358-4901

Last year, the Virginia Historical Society encouraged more people to visit its museum and research library by offering free admission. This year, starting today, the VHS is going further, by opening on Mondays--staying open seven days a week.

The society's museum and shop will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Its library will be open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Free admission continues throughout the year.

"Reopening on Mondays will allow visitors the maximum amount of time possible to see 'An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia,' a 3,000-square-foot show featuring more than 200 objects and 17 state-of-the-art audiovisual programs," VHS President and CEO Paul Levengood said.

Besides "An American Turning Point," eight other exhibitions will be on display this year at the society's headquarters on the Boulevard in Richmond.