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WILLIAM AIKEN WALKER (American, 1838–1921)
Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor
Dated 1886
Oil on canvas, 20 x 36 inches
Courtesy of Gibbes Museum of Art/Carolina
Art Association, Charleston, South Carolina,

A recent museum acquistion, Bombardment of Fort Sumter ranks among the finest works by William Aiken Walker, a native Charlestonian best known for his meticulous scenes of Southern laborers. This painting, documenting a significant event in the American Civil War, is currently used as an illustration in school history textbooks throughout the country.

Walker was commissioned by the Confederate State Corps of Engineers to render drawings of military defenses in Charleston. This work re-creates the Union’s unsuccessful April 1863 attack on Fort Sumter, shown in the center. In the foregound, different strata of Southern society—gentry, slaves, and flower sellers—watch the battle from the east battery. The harbor entrance teams with warships, including the confederate gunboat Juno, on the left. In the heat of battle, clouds of smoke billow from gun placements. The sketch (now lost) that inspired this painting was made shortly after Walker witnessed the famous event.

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