Officially the painting is known as “The Last Stand for Mobile.” But it could easily instead be titled, “The many faces of Brian.”
The painting depicts a very busy behind-the-scenes view of Confederate troops hustling in their fight against approaching Yankees during the Battle of Fort Blakeley in 1865. In the front is a tall man with a long, ruddy, red beard. He looks calm but worried.
That man is Brian DesRochers, interpretive ranger at Historic Blakeley State Park, home of the battlefield in Spanish Fort. Look right, there is his again, mid-painting, hollering as the cannon blows.
Behind that man, DesRochers appears yet again, rifle slung over his shoulder, walking quickly to the front of the fight. He appears to be marching to himself, another iteration of Brian standing just behind a rifleman, staring intently over the barricade at the approaching army.
This last view of Brian is hunched forward, anxious and seems to carry the weight and the fear that the first view of Brian kept bottled just beneath the surface.
All the men portrayed in the piece may have fought in vain that day. The battle took place April 9, 1865, hours after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered in Virginia. The city of Mobile surrendered three days later.
Frequent visitors to the park will quickly spot DesRochers in the painting. They know him. They have seen him. Not just on the trails as a ranger but as General Francis Cockrell of the 2nd Missouri Regiment who he loosely portrays during re-enactments. Cockrell, his staff, and his flag were captured at Blakeley.
The painting, unveiled at the 2019 Bicentennial Celebration, is now available for sale as prints at Blakeley State Park.
DesRochers said he has been a Civil War aficionado since high school. When he learned that famed Civil War artist Rick Reeves had been tapped to create the painting as part of the county’s 2019 Bicentennial Celebration he was elated.
Reeves famously focuses on recreating scenes based on the war’s western theater – battles in the Deep South and Tennessee. DesRochers had followed the artist since his teen years and befriended him on Facebook.
He learned that his favorite artist was coming to paint his favorite place on the social app when Reeves sent him a simple message, ‘When can I come look at your park?’
“I thought, you’ve got to be kidding me,” DesRochers said. “I was a star struck teenage girl when that happened.”
Reeves and DesRochers toured the park, took photos and held a sort of fashion show of Civil War attire. DesRochers donned the different outfits he wore in re-enactments and posed as soldiers would have been – the worried leader, the yeller, the man walking quickly to the front, and the soldier watching as the enemy approached.
When the painting was revealed DesRochers, who has helped rebuild the earthworks on Blakeley’s site by hand over the last decade, was moved.
“We have literally spent many drops of blood, sweat and tears on occasion rebuilding this place,” he said. “To be part of the painting, it has a lot of special meaning to me.”
At home where DesRochers has a print hanging, it has also become a great game for his four-year-old daughter.
“She likes to point out all the daddies,” he says.