A pensive Confederate veteran stands amid a devastated landscape in the aftermath of the surrender in this oil on canvas entitled Appomattox. Artist John Adams Elder painted this scene around 1888, and the figure of the soldier looking downward was the basis for a bronze statue commissioned by the R. E. Lee Camp, No. 2, United Confederate Veterans of Alexandria, Virginia, that same year.
The son of a shoemaker, Elder was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on February 3, 1833, and from a young age exhibited artistic talent, painting the faces of local citizens on the fences around town. Impressed by Elder's work, a wealthy lawyer named John Minor funded the artist's training in New York, and then convinced painter Emanuel Leutze of Washington Crossing the Delaware fame to take Elder with him to Germany, where the young Virginian studied for five years. During the Civil War Elder enlisted in the Confederate army and he was frequently assigned to make drawings for the Ordnance Department. A member of Caskie's Battery of Artillery at the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864, Elder made sketches of the scene the day after the event and later created a large-scale painting of it. (Former Confederate general William Mahone purchased the painting, beating out the head of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., who was also eager to acquire it.) In the postwar era Elder became well known for his battle scenes and portraits of Confederate generals—he painted Robert E. Lee eight times—as well as genre paintings of the Old South. He produced several variations of this somber Confederate soldier, all of them imbued with a tragic—but heroic—spirit.
In 1887 Elder spent a month at Jefferson Davis's Mississippi home painting a full-length portrait of the former Confederate president. While there the artist contracted malaria and his health gradually declined. Elder died in 1895 in Fredericksburg, in the house where he was born.