This painting—Sinking of the Rebel Cruiser Alabama by the U.S.S. Kearsage—depicts the Battle of Cherbourg, a fight between Union and Confederate forces that occurred off the coast of France on June 19, 1864, during the Civil War. The two ships exchanged fire for over an hour, watched by more than 15,000 bystanders from the nearby shore. The conflict resulted in the death of 41 sailors and the sinking of the CSS Alabama, which was no match for the Kearsage’s iron-chain cladding and slower, but more accurate artillery. Relying on newspaper accounts, the French painter Édouard Manet documented the battle in a work that same year. Four years later, the American marine painter Xanthus Russell Smith (1839 – 1929) similarly relied on both written and oral eyewitness accounts to ensure the accuracy of his painting, the first of several works on the subject. Smith himself had served as a captain’s clerk in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. Beginning in 1868, he embarked on a long career painting the major naval engagements of the Civil War, eventually referring to himself as the “oldest living and practicing artist with Civil War experiences.”
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- Titles Sinking of the Rebel cruiser Alabama by the U.S.S. Kearsage (Alternate)
- Artist Xanthus Russell Smith, American, 1839 - 1929
- Medium oil on canvas
- Dimensions 9 7/8 × 18 in. (25.1 × 45.7 cm) frame: 13 1/2 × 21 1/2 in. (34.3 × 54.6 cm)
- Credit Line Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Gift of Regions Bank, AFI.179.2015
- Work Type painting
- Classification Paintings
- Inscription Frame, under rail at bottom left, metal tag: MOBILE / 00015657
- Provenance Xanthus Russell Smith (1836-1929); inherited by a member of the Smith family, Portland, Maine; dealer Vose Galleries, Boston, Massachusetts, 1976; purchased by the First National Bank of Mobile, Mobile, Alabama, 1977; via consolidation to AmSouth Bancorporation, Birmingham, Alabama, August 30, 1985; via consolidation to Regions Bank, Birmingham, Alabama, November 4, 2006; gift to the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, December 23, 2015