Nowhere Else To Go and In the Darkest Hour by Nathan Greene
Nowhere Else To Go
The painting titled Nowhere Else To Go by Nathan Greene depicts Abraham Lincoln after a day of visiting Union Army Generals and wounded soldiers near Sharpsburg, Maryland. The battle that had taken place, known by historians as Antietam, was part of the Maryland Campaign. This campaign was an attempt by Confederate General Robert E. Lee to invade the North. The invasion attempt at the battle near Antietam Creek was ultimately unsuccessful and resulted in what was the bloodiest sing-day battle in American history. The combined tally of dead, wounded and missing soldiers was 22,717 (McPherson, 2002).
There is photographic evidence of President Lincoln meeting with General George B. McClellan on October 3, 1862, following the battle. As Commander in Chief, Lincoln was significantly engaged with the strategies and tactics motivating the Union Army’s actions. According to Sears (2015), Lincoln was sorely disappointed in McClellan’s execution of the battle. He saw McClellan’s commands in the battlefield as poorly coordinated and resulting in unnecessary losses of Union Soldiers. Sears states that, “In making his battle against great odds to save the Republic, General McClellan had committed barely 50,000 infantry and artillerymen to the contest. A third of his army did not even fire a shot. Even at that, his men repeatedly drove the Army of Northern Virginia to the brink of disaster, feats of valor entirely lost on a commander thinking of little beyond staving off his own defeat.” Lincoln believed that the caution used by McClellan was what led the battle to draw onward rather than immediately crippling the Confederate Army. The tense relationship between Lincoln and McClellan continued until early November of 1862, when McClellan was relieved of his command after declining to pursue General Lee and the Confederate Army across the Potomac River.
The distress experience by Lincoln throughout these events is apparent in Nowhere Else To Go. The title of this painting is inspired by the following statement from Lincoln: “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” This artwork appears to be a depiction of one of these moments wherein Lincoln is experiencing such an overwhelming conviction. Notice the placement of Lincoln in regards to the flags of the United States and the Confederate States of America. Lincoln is halfway between the two flags, but facing the folded flag of the CSA while engaged in prayer and holding a Bible. The scene of the battle is visible through the open door of his tent and serves as the backdrop for the folded Confederate flag. According to Greene (2012), “Historical evidence suggests that in difficult times such as these, Lincoln found guidance from the scriptures. As the war progressed he became more deeply convicted that the ‘Hand of Providence’ was involved in the events of the war, his presidency, and eventually the end of slavery.” Lincoln is then quoted by Greene, “I have felt his hand upon me in great trials and submitted to His guidance.” The divine intervention supposedly experienced by Lincoln is expressed in the left side of the painting and associated with the United States. The Union flag is hanging proudly behind the President and is illuminated by candle light as he prays in the direction of the Confederate flag and the battlefield.
In the Darkest Hour
The second work by Nathan Greene titled In the Darkest Hour is set in the same scene as the first. However, Lincoln is reading scripture and lounging in a chair. In this painting, Lincoln embodies an aura of casual confidence. This confidence could be due to a number of factors. The Union victory at the Battle of Antietam resulted in multiple strategized consequences, despite the fact that there is a great deal of scholarly debate surrounding whether or not this was a “strategic victory”. Regardless, among the most significant consequences of the Union’s technical victory was the delivery of the Emancipation Proclamation (see the Living Lincoln posts of Kelley, Strine, and Yefremov for Lincoln commemorations in regards to the Emancipation Proclamation). Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, though he had the intension of doing so at an earlier time. He was strategically advised by his Cabinet to wait until a Union military victory. This would avoid the perception of desperation in the delivery of the Proclamation. Association of emancipation with the Union agenda dissuaded the governments of France and the United Kingdom from political recognition of the Confederacy. Both of these countries had already abolished slavery. Thus, it would be contradictory of the underlying virtues of each government to show support for the Confederacy which explicitly upheld the practice of slavery. (Sears, 2015)
In the Darkest Hour embodies the strategic upper hand possessed by the Union after the Battle of Antietam, as expressed by Lincoln’s casual confidence. Less of the Confederate flag is exposed in this painting. It is even positioned next to the shoeless feet of the President. The Union flag, along with the open Bible in Lincoln’s hand, is at the center of the artwork. Further, the battlefield is also only partially revealed behind the Confederate flag, existing now as a tragic past event that ultimately supports an impending series of profound events which will lead to the ultimate victory of the United States over the Confederate States of America.
Greene, N. (2012). Nathan Greene studio. Retrieved from https://nathangreenestudio.wordpress.com/tag/antietam/
Kelley, A. (2015). The oval office and the legacy of the emancipation proclamation. Retrieved from https://livinglincoln.web.unc.edu/2015/04/08/emancipation-proclamation-in-the-oval-office/
McPherson, J. M. (2002). Crossroads of freedom: Antietam. Oxford University Press.
Sears, S. W. (2015). Landscape turned red: The battle of Antietam. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Yefremov, V. (2015). Antietam and the emancipation proclamation.