Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Moses Ezekiel

Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sunday, I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, and the like that produced them.

Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Moses Ezekiel

Born into a family of that included 14 brothers and sisters on the rough side of Richmond, Virginia October 28, 1844 was one Moses Jacob Ezekiel. The son of penniless Spanish-Jewish parents who themselves were first generation Americans, he sought out a position at the nearby Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington as it was a public school and, most importantly, affordable.

moses-ezekiel

Accepted into the Class of 1866, on September 17, 1862 he became the first Jewish cadet of that storied academy. No sooner did he arrive then he had to fight off prejudice and scorn, which he overcame to become a well liked, by all accounts, adjusted cadet. During his time at VMI, he was selected as part of the special guard for the casket of fallen Confederate Lt-Gen Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson who had been before the war an instructor at the school. It was not to be his only brush with history during the war.

When Union Major General Franz Sigel marched his 6200-man army to the head of the Shenandoah Valley in May 1864, there just weren’t any Confederate troops there to stop him. Confederate Major General (and former U.S. Vice President) John C. Breckinridge grabbed everyone who could carry a rifle– including the 295 VMI cadets, to stop them. This led to the famous Battle of New Market, which stopped Sigel, ensured the local farmers could harvest their crops which went on to feed the Army of Northern Virginia through the winter of 1864-65, and by default, extended the war according to some arguments.

Battle of New Market., by Keith Rocco. Ezekiel was a teenage cadet on that field.

Battle of New Market., by Keith Rocco. Ezekiel was a teenage cadet on that field.

Ezekiel was there, as part of Company C of the VMI Battalion, and, with the cadets, made a charge without orders across a muddy field in the rain in May 15, 1864. Most of the cadets had their boots sucked off by the thick mud but they broke the Union position and captured a cannon, helping in the overall defeat while suffering some 24 percent casualties. To this day, the battleground is remembered as the “Field of Lost Shoes.”

moses_joshua_lazarus_3rgt1

Ezekiel helped recover the wounded after the battle, including his friend, Thomas Jefferson Garfield, the grandson of the seventh President. He sat with Garfield and read from the New Testament to sooth the boy as he died in hospital. Following New Market, Ezekiel rejoined the cadets and fought through the rest of the war. Then, returning to the academy at its new location (it was burned during the war) he graduated 10th in his class in 1866. He refused in later years to state that he fought for the institution of slavery, but rather to repel invaders to his home state .

On advice from Robert E Lee, then president of nearby Washington College, Ezekiel resumed his work in the arts and soon left for Europe where he spent much of the rest of his life. From there he became one of the most famous American sculptors of his era, producing more than 200 finished works. These include a set of eleven larger-than-life sized statues of famous artists (Phidias, Raphael, Durer, Michelangelo, Titian, Murillo, Da Vinci, et al) that are now at the Norfolk Botanical Garden, Norfolk, Virginia. The Bust of Thomas Jefferson at the U.S. Capitol and others.

Religious Liberty by Moses Jacob Ezekiel. Commissioned by B'nai B'rith for the United States Centennial, dedicated in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park on Thanksgiving Day in 1876. Currently in front of the National Museum of American Jewish History.  Photo from Philart.net http://www.philart.net/artist.php?id=70

“Religious Liberty” by Moses Jacob Ezekiel. Commissioned by B’nai B’rith for the United States Centennial, dedicated in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park on Thanksgiving Day in 1876. Currently in front of the National Museum of American Jewish History. Photo from Philart.net

Then there is his martial work.

Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, perhaps Ezekiel's most famous work, although controversial today for its inclusion of several depictions of African American confederate soldiers http://scvcalifornia.blogspot.com/2008/07/black-confederates-southern-fantasy-or_20.html

Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, perhaps Ezekiel’s most famous work, although controversial today for its inclusion of several depictions of African American confederate soldiers

Statue of Stonewall Jackson (1910) by Moses Jacob Ezekiel, West Virginia State Capitol, Charleston, West Virginia.

Statue of Stonewall Jackson (1910) by Moses Jacob Ezekiel, West Virginia State Capitol, Charleston, West Virginia.

VMI cadets marching past Ezekiel's "Virginia Mourning Her Dead" (1903), Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Virginia. He attended the dedication of this statute, which includes the graves of eight cadets killed at New Market to include his friend, Thomas Jefferson Garfield. He said at the time that, “something arose like a stone in my throat, and fell to my heart, slashing tears to my eyes” upon seeing the cadets on the field again.  http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/moses-ezekiel.html

VMI cadets marching past Ezekiel’s “Virginia Mourning Her Dead” (1903), Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Virginia. He attended the dedication of this statute, which includes the graves of eight cadets killed at New Market to include his friend, Thomas Jefferson Garfield. He said at the time that, “something arose like a stone in my throat, and fell to my heart, slashing tears to my eyes” upon seeing the cadets on the field again.

The Lookout (1910) by Moses Jacob Ezekiel, Confederate Cemetery, Johnson's Island, Ohio. The site was a POW camp for Confederate soldiers including several VMI cadets.

The Lookout (1910) by Moses Jacob Ezekiel, Confederate Cemetery, Johnson’s Island, Ohio. The site was a POW camp for Confederate soldiers including several VMI graduates.

His last work completed was the Statue of Edgar Allan Poe (1917), currently at the University of Baltimore. It should be remembered that Poe grew up as a poor kid in Richmond, a soldier, and, briefly, a cadet at the USMA.

His last work completed was the Statue of Edgar Allan Poe (1917), currently at the University of Baltimore. It should be remembered that Poe grew up as a poor kid in Richmond, a soldier, and, briefly, a cadet at the USMA.

Ezekiel was celebrated in his lifetime, winning the Michel-Beer Prix de Rome, Crosses for Merit and Art bestowed by the Emperor of Germany and the Grand Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, the Gold Medal of the Royal Society of Palermo and the Raphael Medal from the Art Society of Urbino. King Victor Emmanuel of Italy gave him the titles of Chevalier and Officer of the Crown of Italy, as well as a knighthood.

Portrait_of_Moses_Jacob_Ezekiel

When World War One came to Italy, Ezekiel threw himself into helping organize the Red Cross before dying in March 1917 at age 72. He was moved to Arlington National Cemetery in 1921, where he was buried at the foot of his gothic Confederate Memorial. His honor guard of eight handpicked VMI cadets included Randolph McCall Pate, later the 21st Commandant of the Marine Corps.

Ezekiel’s inscription is simple, “Moses J. Ezekiel, Sergeant of Company C, Battalion of Cadets of the, Virginia Military Institute.”

In addition to his art and legacy, his papers are maintained by the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Thank you for your work, sir.

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About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as GUNS.com, Univesity of Guns, Outdoor Hub, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms Talk.com, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at Amazon.com as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the US federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

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