Saturday, May 29, 2010

His military miniatures stand tall in Chickamauga diorama at Garfield home

Standing only one to two inches tall, Bertram Floyd’s creations capture the tension and drama of combat.

A gap-toothed soldier snarls at the enemy. Another bearded figure rushes headlong into glory, perhaps death.

Floyd painted between 150 and 200 soldiers and created a diorama of the Battle of Chickamauga for the James A. Garfield National Historic Site (JAGNHS) in Mentor, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb.

The 3 feet by 6 feet diorama went on display May 29 in the visitor’s center at the 8-acre home and farm that belonged to the U.S. president, who died of assassination wounds 18 years to the day after the Georgia battle.

Chickamauga was the most-famous moment in Garfield’s Civil War career. He rode from a “disorderly retreat” to carry news to another Union general who would earn the sobriquet “The Rock of Chickamauga” for saving the army that afternoon.

Floyd uses a sharpened No. 3 brush, a magnifying lens and plenty of patience to craft soldiers and scenery through his business, Victory Miniatures, in Sheffield Village, Ohio.

The design engineer at NASA Glenn Research Center has been painting figures since 1985.

Floyd says the 25 millimeter (1 inch) men in the Chickamauga diorama “have plenty of detail.”

He has a system when painting a large number of figures.

“I may do all the pants and jackets one day.”

Napoleonic figures are more challenging to make, with incredible detail. A uniform collar, for example, may have three colors.

Floyd expects a 12 feet by 18 feet diorama of the Battle of Waterloo, with 2,000 figures, to fetch about $10,000.

James Garfield served as chief of staff to Union commander William S. Rosecrans at the 1863 Battle of Chickamauga. Then 31, he withdrew from the field with Rosecrans during a hasty retreat when Confederate troops overwhelmed the Federals.

Scott Longert, park guide at the Garfield site, said the general rode back six miles through heavy fire back to the front to bring news of the calamitous situation to George H. Thomas.

“Someone had to get to the battlefield to tell Thomas what happened” to the collapsed Union center and right.

Thomas probably knew no reinforcements were coming and that it was up to him to hold Snodgrass Hill and allow the Union army to safely withdraw to Chattanooga, Tenn.

Thomas managed to prevent a Union route. “It was a key moment that could have turned the tide,” Longert says of Snodgrass Hill. Garfield later told the disgraced Rosecrans that Thomas “was standing like a rock.”

Historians are divided on whether Garfield brought or relayed critical information that actually saved the army. The citizen-soldier was promoted to major general for bravery that day.

Garfield, who saw combat in Kentucky early in the war, left military service in December 1863 and served in Congress. The Ohioan liked to attend military reunions with the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and was a friend of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman.

The dark horse candidate won the presidency over fellow Union general Winfield Scott Hancock in 1880, but was assassinated less than a year later. He was only 49.

JAGNHS will host a number of Civil War-related exhibits and talks in conjunction with the war’s upcoming 150th anniversary. An encampment is planned for July 31-Aug. 1.

Admission to James A. Garfield National Historic Site, where the president lived from 1876 to 1881, is $5. The property includes barns and a telegraph office. The Chickamauga diorama will be on display through September.

Click here for more information on the Garfield home.
Click here for more information on Victory Miniatures

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