For those of you interested in how our books are illustrated, author Andy Nunez has provided an illuminative account of his efforts to track down his ideal illustrator for the upcoming campaign title: 'The Wilderness and Spotsylvania', and the subsequent processes that went into producing the images. Especially striking is the level of collaboration involved; the specialist in word and image respectively in a joint immersion in the scenes they want to depict. The results are brilliant.
Life is full of odd coincidences. I was attending a trade show for miniature enthusiasts at Valley Forge, Virginia, and stopped by the Osprey booth. There I saw a fellow studiously bent over a painting depicting Roman officers. The artwork was impressive, so I chatted with the fellow, learning his name was Peter Dennis. We lamented the loss of Angus McBride as an illustrator of many fine Osprey books. I later picked up a copy of The Battle Vienna 1683 and had Peter autograph it for me. Something about his style intrigued me.
I went home, considering writing for Osprey myself. I corresponded with Marcus Cowper and we settled on the current title and I began research. Pulling down a thin softcover by Paddy Griffith, one of my favorites due to the nice black and white illustrations, I noticed that the artist was also a Peter Dennis. Finding Peter on Facebook, he confirmed that he was the same fellow. I discussed my book plans with him and he insisted on doing the illustrations. I was overjoyed.
Marcus and I then worked to settle the subjects for the three Battle Plates. I gave him half a dozen suggestions of key scenes and we decided to do one Confederate success, one Union success, and one neutral painting.
The first one was General John Brown Gordon’s flank attack on the Union line on May 6, 1864. I went to the Wilderness and walked the length of the action, taking photos and read several accounts, including Gordon’s. I wanted a scene of chaos, with the Union caught completely off guard. For the second, it was the accidental shooting of Confederate General James Longstreet by his own troops in a confused action covered by dense smoke from a woods fire. Longstreet and his entourage blundered between two regiments, each thinking the other was the enemy. Several people were killed and several wounded, including Longstreet, who lived. The third was the desperate action at the Bloody Angle as Union troops spill over the earthworks and wipe out an entire Confederate division, capturing two generals. This was a good example of the bitter hand to hand fighting that took place, again, obscured by a dense fog.
Having been an aspiring artist myself, I drew up some color sketches giving my ideas of how the action would unfold, and found a number of photographs for reference, even sending Peter a book with photos of re-enactors. He took my cartoonish sketches and turned them into blazing, detailed scenes, neatly depicting the actions, as I was sure they must have been. You will see Gordon directing his fierce Georgians as Union troops melt before their attack, leaving dinner and tents behind. You will see James Longstreet, struck in the throat, lurch back as two ranks of soldiers fire away at each other. Finally, you will see musket, saber, pistol, and even fence rails in action as the Union soldiers clamber over the Confederate emplacements and capture hundreds of men. Words can depict scenes, but Peter’s illustrations make you feel like you are right there in the midst of the action, hearing the crackle of flames and the crash of gunfire, the screams of men and the smell of smoke. I am humbled to have my work illustrated by such grandeur.