Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bombardment of Fort Fisher, by James Madison Alden

This print is entitled Bombardment of Fort Fisher. The lengthy subtitle reads, "By U.S. Naval Forces under command of Rear Admiral D.D. Porter just previous to the assault of the Military and Naval forces under the command of Major General A.H. Terry, January 15, 1865.  To the Gallant Officers and Men with valor and skill that secured the Victory, the Print is respectfully dedicated by the Publisher."

Drawn by James Madison Alden and published by the New York City-based print shop William Endicott and Company (the same company that published the museum's USS Minnesota print), the print currently hangs in the museum's Civil War gallery.  It depicts the second major bombardment conducted by the massive U.S. Fleet in preparation for a major ground assault by 10,000 Union Soldiers of Terry's XXIII Corps and 2,000 volunteer Sailors and Marines from the fleet.  The print is centered around the Confederate batteries at Fort Fisher's "Mound Battery," located on the Southern end of the fort. From this vantage point, the viewer can see the entire length of the fort and appreciate the large number of ships the U.S. Navy brought to subdue it. Read more about this epic battle here.

Alden's work is rare in the respect that the vast majority of other images portraying the battle show it from the fleet side, looking at the fort from the outside. It is also unique in another respect. Throughout his career as an artist, cartographer, and executive assistant to Admiral David Dixon Porter, Alden painted over 670 works. Bombardment of Fort Fisher is the only one of Alden's works that has people in it, and is the only one that portrays a battle. A third factor that makes this illustration rare is that Alden only sold a few of his private works to the public. 
This is a typical  Battle of Fort Fisher illustration, with the fleet
in front and the fort toward the back.  This one was sketched
by T.F. Laycock and published by William Endicott.
As an artist, Alden specialized in sweeping landscape watercolors. He developed a talent for this while serving on the U.S. Boundary Commission expedition from 1857 to 1860. Charged with working with British Royal Engineers, the Commission's job was to finalize the exact location of the U.S.-Canadian border. Alden provided illustrations of important geographical landmarks that could be cross-referenced on a map. (Many of those works can be seen here). One art historian noted that Alden's training as a cartographer led him to reject the up-and-coming European schools of 19th century art, such as Romanticism and Impressionism. Rather, Alden believed his paintings should accurately portray the subject without the artist adding his own interpretation.  

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