Gambrill Mill, a Favorite Place to Paint

I have been painting at Gambrill Mill for years now. It is one of my favorite places to paint for a number of reasons. I love the possibilities. There is a lovely meandering stream, open fields , tall mature trees, a railroad bridge and is not heavily populated so I usually have the place to myself.

HISTORY: “Gambrill Mill was part of a large land holding originally owned by James Marshall. (Hmmm could be one of my husband’s relations. Lots of Marshalls in his family. We often attend the Marshall Reunion in Southwestern Virginia) The Gambrill Mill (also known as Araby Mill) was built in 1830, and purchased by James H. Gambrill in 1855. Gambrill owned and operated the mill into the 1890s. It was very successful and even continued after the Battle of Monocacy when it was used as a field hospital. The Gambrills lived in a beautiful mansion and loved entertaining.

Hard to imagine that this bucolic landscape was once part of a Civil War skirmish. Approximately 150 years ago General Jubal Early led 15,000 Confederate forces across the Potomac River and into Maryland. The battle was fought in and around this area of Gambrill Mill. The idea was to overtake Washington DC and continue on to Point Lookout in southern Maryland where they had hoped to free the confederate POW’s. The Battle of Monocacy on July 9, 1864 was won by the Confederacy but the Union forces led by General Lew Wallace, who interestingly enough would later in life write the novel Ben Hur , delayed them in time for General Grant to move some troops from Richmond to Washington DC to defend. “It was called the battle that saved Washington,”

To my delight, I discovered a very prolific and hardworking artist who sketched at Gambrill Mill during the battle. Wouldn’t you have liked to have met him? I know I would. How brave he must have been to have put himself right in the middle of battle.

CIVIL WAR ARTIST: Alfred Robert Waud was an American artist and illustrator, born in London, England. He is most remembered for the sketches he made as an artist correspondent during the American Civil War. In 1860, Alfred Waud became an illustrator or “special artist” (a full-time paid staff artist) for the New York Illustrated News. “Alfred Waud attended every battle of the Army of the Potomac between the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861 and the Siege of Petersburg in 1865. Alfred was one of only two artists present at the Battle of Gettysburg. His depiction of Pickett’s Charge is thought to be the only visual account by an eyewitness”.

THE PROCESS: “During the Civil War all images in a publication had to be hand drawn and engraved by skilled artists. Photography existed but there was no way to transfer a photograph to a printing plate since this was well before the advent of the halftone process for printing photographs. Photographic equipment was too cumbersome and exposure times were too slow to be used on the battlefield.” Once the artist finished the sketch it was then sent by courier back to the newspaper office. Then the engraver took over creating an engraving on a 4 inch block of boxwood. They would combine these little engravings together to make one large illustration. Then the wood engraving was copied by an electrotype process which produced a metal printing plate.

Alfred Waud Harpers Weekly Civil War Artist
Photo of Alfred R. Waud, artist of Harpers Weekly, sketching on the outskirts of Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania. PHOTOGRAPHER / CREDIT: Timothy H. O’Sullivan
DATE: July 1863

This drawing shows the destruction of the RR bridge over the Monocacy River. It looks like it also shows the original covered bridge which was burned down to keep the Confederates from advancing. Artist: Waud, Alfred R. (Alfred Rudolph), 1828-1891, Source: Morgan collection of Civil War drawings (Library of Congress)

“Bridge over Monocacy, Scene of Lew Wallace battle with Early, 1864” artist: Waud, Alfred R. (Alfred Rudolph), 1828-1891,

This is an older painting done in the hot heat of summer. It shows the same area over the Monocacy River where the railroad bridge is and still in use. Looking at this painting I want to go back into it and soften the bridge but I think I will leave it alone. I rarely change older paintings preferring to leave them alone and move on. Unless, of course, I were to show this piece then maybe a few adjustments. It’s really interesting to know the history of this place and to be painting and hear the train go by.

Monocacy River Railroad Bridge ‐ Oil ‐ linen ‐ 14 x 18

My most recent work entitled ” Gambrill Stream in February” (16×20) oil on linen. You can see the working method used on this easel painting. I began with a light wash keeping on the forms loose because I want to stress a sense of atmosphere on a cold February day. Continue to develop the composition trying not to get caught up into the details too soon. Next I want to describe the foreground water reflections. I notice by the third pass that the water has become much too high in chroma. The water as I recall was very grayish blue and so I had to pull down the intensity. I made a choice not to try to copy all of the branches but to “suggest” as much as possible.

“Gambrill Mill Stream” (16×20) oil on linen 2020
Gambrill Mill Pond
“Gambrill Mill Pond” oil on canvas (18×24)
“In the Woods at Gambrill Mill” ‐ Oil ‐ linen ‐ 20 x 24 ‐ Private Collection A gift to Joan Baez

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