Honor and Tears
Long Branch, Millwood, VA, May 24,
by Michael Aubrecht
Order online at: Limited Edition
Clarke County, deep in the shadow of the Blue Ridge
Mountains,stands one of the most historic estates
in all of America. Christened after a nearby
stream, Long Branch is a beautifully designed home
that boasts an impressive legacy. The original plot
was drawn up by a young surveyor named George
Washington and the farm was later owned by such
regal proprietors as Lord Culpeper and Lord
Fairfax. In 1842 Hugh Mortimer Nelson, a descendant
of the original builder, purchased the property and
completed the mansion.
During the outbreak of the American
Civil War, Hugh Nelson found himself torn between a
loyalty to his state and to his country.
Representing Clarke County during Virginia’s
Secession Convention, he tried to find an
alternative to war. According to his colleagues he
stood out as “one of the ablest of the Union men of
the Virginia Convention of 1861, but who, like most
of his party, buckled on his sword when all of
Virginia’s efforts at pacification had
After raising a company of cavalry,
he served under the flamboyant J.E.B. Stuart before
being reassigned as the aide-de-camp for General
Richard B. Ewell. While in the field, Nelson wrote
home to his children, Hugh, Jr. and Nannie,
expressing his desire to be reunited with his
May of 1862, Ewell’s men marched through the
Shenandoah Valley in order to join up with General
Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s “Valley Campaign.”
Captain Nelson remained on Ewell’s staff throughout
the campaign, which eventually took them to the
vicinity of Long Branch.
the 23rd of May, the captain took leave of his post
in order to make an overnight visit to his beloved
home. Once there, he was reunited with his wife,
Adelaide Holker Nelson, who had remained at Long
Branch, despite its proximity to repeated
skirmishes and guerrilla warfare. Over the course
of that visit, the Nelsons shared what would
ultimately be their last precious hours together.
After returning to the ranks, Hugh went on to
participate in the Seven Days Battles near
Richmond, before succumbing to typhoid fever in
August of 1862.
Mort Kunstler’s Comments:
first time I saw Long Branch was about ten years
ago. It is truly impressive. A second trip this
year made me very excited about the potential for a
painting using Long Branch as the background
setting. I love incorporating buildings that are
still standing today and are virtually unchanged
from Civil War days.
beauty and grandeur of Long Branch have been
preserved for all to see, due to the foresight of a
Baltimore textile executive, Harry Z. Isaacs, who
bought the deteriorating manor house in 1986. He
restored and refurbished it and formed the Harry Z.
Isaacs Foundation to maintain Long Branch for all
future generations to enjoy.
Upon reading the book Long Branch,
by Christopher R. Fordney, I then came to
understand a great deal about the plantation house
and the families who lived there.
realized that I had not done a romantic scene since
Brief Encounter in 2005 and decided to look for a
situation that would incorporate both the Nelson
family, who lived there during the War Between the
States, and their magnificent mansion. I found a
passage in the book that described how Captain Hugh
Nelson came home for an overnight visit on May 23,
1862. His parting from Mrs. Nelson the following
morning was the perfect situation for what I wanted
to paint. After going through sketches, photos and
a complete tour of the grounds I rushed home to
Oyster Bay to get started on the painting.
deliberately placed Captain Nelson and his
beautiful wife in the shadows cast by the early
morning sun so that the dark of the bonnet would
contrast with the white of the door. This creates
strong visual interest and draws the eye to
Adelaide Holker Nelson. Her likeness is based on a
portrait that exists and is pictured in Fordney’s
book. There is no known portrait of Hugh M. Nelson,
Sr., so I based his likeness on the chance that his
son, Hugh Nelson, Jr., bore a strong resemblance to
his father. I was able to work with a photograph of
the son that is also in the book. The time and the
date of this farewell, early on May 24th, gave me
the opportunity to paint bright morning sunlight
with the brilliant color of azaleas as well as
dogwoods in full bloom.
When the Nelsons parted on the
morning of May 24th, there had to have been some
tears. They would both go on to do their duty and
preserve the family honor. There were many more
tears a few months later. After the battle of
Gaines Mill, Nelson fell ill, and died on August 6.
The morning of May 24, 1862 was the last time they
would see each other.
Image courtesy of Künstler
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