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Philippoteaux was commissioned by a group of Chicago investors in 1879 to create the Gettysburg Cyclorama. He spent several weeks in April 1882 at the site of the Gettysburg Battlefield to sketch and photograph the scene, and extensively researched the battle and its events over several months. Local photographer William H. Tipton created a series of panoramic photographs shot from a wooden tower erected along present-day Hancock Avenue. The photos, pasted together, formed the basis of the composition. Philippoteaux also interviewed several survivors of the battle, including Union generals Winfield S. Hancock, Abner Doubleday, Oliver O. Howard, and Alexander S. Webb, and based his work partly on their recollections.

Philippoteaux enlisted a team of five assistants, including his father until his death, to create the final work. It took over a year and a half to complete. The finished painting was nearly 100 yards long and weighed six tons. When completed for display, the full work included not just the painting, but numerous artifacts and sculptures, including stone walls, trees, and fences. The effect of the painting has been likened to the nineteenth century equivalent of an IMAX theater.

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