A memorial to the thousands of Americans who were involved with the American Civil War is being created by nationally recognized sculptor Gary Casteel. However, it remains a memorial without a home.
“There is no memorial to the Civil War anywhere is this country,” said Casteel. “Even in Washington, D.C. Every war is represented except the Civil War.”
When visiting the War World II memorial in the nation’s capital, Casteel heard a veteran say he was proud the vets got it. “But he went on to say ‘it doesn’t say a damn thing about what it took to get it.’ He said it didn’t tell the whole story,” Casteel said.
Telling the story of the four-year struggle of the Civil War is what Casteel hopes to do. His work consists of stone and bronze bas-relief portraits and three dimensional forms, life size, along with panels of scenes depicting both military and civilians from the period. One figure is William Goodridge who was born a slave in Virginia, was an abolitionist and a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and ultimately became the richest man in York, Pa.
The entire memorial will be about 90 feet in diameter. It will represent the perspective of the North, South, East and West. There will be sculptures throughout that tell the story of military and civilian figures from both sides of the war.
Casteel anticipates it will need about three acres of land and take from three to four years to complete. Casteel has already completed about one third of the sculptures for the project.
He said he has been working on the memorial for about 20 years. He was honored in 2000 by the National Civil War Memorial Commission with an invitation to design and sculpt a fitting memorial to honor those events and individuals during the War Between the States. He worked with a board of 20 nationally recognized historians in determining the overall design content.
However, the memorial has not been his only venture into sculpting or work concerning the Civil War. He is responsible for the statue of Gen. James Longstreet as an equestrian erected in Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, PA. His work has become highly regarded and requested by the National Park Service.
Another Casteel creation is the Kentucky memorial located in the Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, MS.
The park has memorials dedicated to each state. Casteel’s work features bronze statues of President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who were both Kentuckians.
Casteel also does private commissions. He has a studio in Gettysburg so he stays immersed in Civil War history. However, his dedication to sculpting itself has always been part of his life, which, he said, is extremely unusual considering where he grew up.
“I’m from Kingwood, WV, part of a coal mining family, but that just wasn’t what I wanted to do,” Casteel said. “I attended a one-room school house. When I was in fourth grade, my teacher showed me a picture of Michelangelo’s David. I said that’s what I want to do. My teacher told me I wanted to be a sculptor. I couldn’t even spell it. I always loved history and art. I put the two together.”
He held a variety of jobs, one with an Italian family who taught him about tools and cutting marble.
“Over the years, I’ve bought and sold three businesses, but I always went back to sculpting,” Casteel said.
He added that he wants to use his skills to help bring business to the mountain state. He thinks the Civil War memorial will do just that.
“West Virginia’s governor keeps saying he wants to encourage tourism to the state,” Casteel said. “I think the memorial will bring people there. That means millions of dollars.”
Casteel has been trying to gain interest in his project for quite some time. He has his eye on having his creation placed close to Harpers Ferry. However, no one has taken him up on offering the memorial a home.
“So far, no one has answered my calls,” he said.
Still, work on the memorial will continue. For more information, contact Casteel at 717-387-0461.