ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. (AP) — A Confederate general whose brother-in-law was the Union president is depicted in new bronze busts being sold to finance a statue destined for Elizabethtown's Public Square.
Brig. Gen. Ben Hardin Helm of Elizabethtown led the 1st Kentucky Brigade, which is better known in the annals of history as the Orphan Brigade.
He joined the militia as a colonel after rejecting a commission in the Union Army offered by Helm's brother-in-law, President Abraham Lincoln.
Helm's wife, Emilie, was the younger half-sister of first lady Mary Todd Lincoln. After her husband's death, Emilie and her family lived for a time in the White House, despite her rebel sympathies.
The bust was commissioned by the Hardin County History Museum to help finance a planned statue of Helm, who died nearly 150 years ago at the Battle of Chickamauga.
"The museum is very pleased to offer this great work of art to commemorate a great leader from our community during this 150th observance of the Civil War," said Susan McCrobie, president of the museum's board of directors, who also serves as historian for the state division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Two versions of the bust will be sold. A plaster casting covered with a bronze patina will be sold for $50 to anyone making a $100 donation to the Hardin County History Museum's Statue Fund. The bronze bust, which requires a $250 donation to the fund drive, is available for $750 for a total of $1,000.
Proceeds from sales go into a fund to finance creation of a full-length statue of Gen. Helm for the downtown historic district on Public Square, McCrobie said. A call for artists will be announced and interested sculptors will be asked to submit quotes and designs for the project. Donations are tax deductible.
The museum is a federally recognized nonprofit agency and will issue a letter for tax purposes. Orders can be placed with County Clerk Kenny Tabb, who is the museum treasurer, and the items will be cast as orders are collected.
Christina P. Rankin, a Western Kentucky University student, was commissioned to create the busts. She was recommended for the project by her WKU sculpture instructor David M. Marquez, who oversaw the work.
Rankin, a resident of Lebanon, Tenn., said she developed the image from period photographs and examining images of an existing bust at Vicksburg National Battlefield in Mississippi. She began to work with clay to create the image and spent "several hundred hours" on the project since being selected last August.
The first version was cast this week at a foundry on campus. She also said McCrobie and Heath Seymour, Heritage Council executive director, consulted and suggested tweaks for the final work.
In addition to his connection by marriage to the Lincolns, Helm's own family and his work prior to the war are historically distinctive. The eldest son of former Gov. John LaRue Helm and his wife, Lucinda, he was raised in Elizabethtown. Helm graduated ninth in his class in 1851 at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He served only six months in the U.S. Army because of a health issue. After returning home, he earned a law degree and became an attorney in Elizabethtown. Helm also served in the Kentucky General Assembly and later as commonwealth's attorney.