McWilliams Unveils Portrait of Randal McGavock
Jerry McWilliams, local artist nationally recognized for his Civil War paintings, recently unveiled his painting of Colonel Randal McGavock: God’s Own Gentleman. The nearly life-sized work is the first of its kind to portray one of the heroes of the Battle of Raymond.
“I’ve always been interested in the life of Randal McGavock,” stated McWilliams. “Years ago I found a copy of the out-of-print book, 'The Life and Journals of Randal McGavock' and have read it numerous times. The book vividly describes the battlefield death of Colonel McGavock as he led the 10th Tennessee Irish on the Raymond battlefield in a charge against the enemy. I felt compelled to portray McGavock during these final tragic moments of his life.”
Those attending the unveiling applauded as they viewed Colonel Randal McGavock mounted on a magnificent gray horse. Standing beside McGavock holding the Rebel Sons of Erin flag is his dear friend, Sgt. Patrick Griffin, a young lad of 18, who was by his side throughout most of the war. The backdrop of the painting shows the town of Raymond and smoke from Bledsoe’s cannons on the far side of the battlefield.
Randal McGavock was born in 1826 in Nashville, Tennessee, to a family of wealthy Irish immigrants. At the age of 21, he left Nashville for Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he received his degree from Harvard. In 1858, after returning to Nashville, he was elected mayor and served a one-year term. In 1861, after Tennessee became the tenth state to secede from the Union, he decided to leave office and join the war efforts.
During the Battle of Fort Donelson, his first encounter with the enemy, McGavock was captured and taken to Fort Warren prison, Boston Harbor, where he spent five months. After his exchange, he found himself in Jackson for the re-organization of the 10th Tennessee. During this time, his regiment was assigned to Gregg’s Brigade, a brigade comprised of the 3rd, 10th, 30th, 41st, 50th Tennessee regiments, the 1st Tennessee battalion and the 7th Texas Infantry. The entire brigade numbered some 3,000 men.
“Even though McGavock joined the war efforts and commanded a regiment, he never gave up his aristocratic ways,” McWilliams commented, “He remained a gentleman to the core. There was nothing he loved more than the luxuries of life - including stimulating conversation, good food, and beautiful women. We know for a fact that in 1862, while the 10th Tennessee was assigned to Jackson, McGavock found his way out to Cooper’s Well Hotel near Raymond. He fell in love with the place not only for the luxurious accommodations but also because the rolling hills reminded him of Nashville.“
In May of 1863, after spending a year in Port Hudson defending the Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, Gregg’s Brigade was ordered back to Jackson to block Grant’s advance into Mississippi. May 12, 1863, would be Colonel Randal McGavock’s last day on earth.
The painting, Randal McGavock: God’s Own Gentleman, depicts McGavock during the final seconds of his life. Mounted on his beloved horse, he leads the charge against the enemy. As his horse reaches the peak of the hill, McGavock looks out over the battlefield and sees nothing but a sea of blue A look of grim determination is on his face while Patrick Griffin, holding the flag, depicts the same expression. The minute McGavock yells CHARGE he is shot from his horse by a Yankee who had the impressive commander in his sight.
Using a creative touch, McWilliams depicts, on the breastplate of the horse, a reflection of the Yankee who fired the single shot. McGavock was only thirty-seven years old when he died on the Raymond battlefield. In the years to follow, Patrick Griffin, a survivor of the entire war, often recalled his beloved colonel and subsequently dubbed him God’s Own Gentleman.
McWilliams has numerous Civil War paintings to his credit including a portrait of Jefferson Davis with his Dog and The Sinking of the U. S. S. Cairo. Regarding his paintings, McWilliams commented, “As an artist of historical events, I feel fortunate to live in an area steeped in history, such as the area around Raymond. Living in an antebellum home that sent at least five men – a father, three sons and an uncle – into battle is a great inspiration. I’m sure that McGavock, with great wealth, good looks, social standing and political influence, felt that he was invincible, as he rode up the slope and faced the great ‘sea of blue’. He never dreamed that his life was about to end. I wanted to depict him in his last moments of glory, not after his death. Sometimes as I start these paintings I feel as though I am a part of the actual scene or in the midst of the battle – and then it’s time to hold onto the brush and watch the paint start to flow.”
Parker Hills, Civil War historian, comments on the importance of McWilliams’ painting saying, “One day in the not-so-distant future, Friends of Raymond will have an interpretive center for visitors to both the town and the battlefield, and Jerry McWilliams’ painting of Randal McGavock at the Battle of Raymond will be the centerpiece. Jerry’s painting has captured the determination of McGavock and his soldiers. It is with this same determination that we will save this battlefield, in order that future generations may remember the men, including McGavock, who fought and died here.”
For the history of Southern Cedars or to view other artwork by McWilliams visit SouthernCedarsGallery.com.
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