Watching the Shot - a painting by Winslow Homer

Historical Clues: Homer's Whereabouts at the Conclusion of the War

Watching the Shot

Homer's Whereabouts at the Conclusion of the War

For Homer the significance of Barlow’s heroics at the two bridges, the High Bridge and the wooden wagon bridge, would mean first hand information from Barlow himself about the happenings. As it would happen, Homer was possibly just 60 miles away on those two days of battle, having come to City Point, Virginia (just outside Petersburg) on March 28, 1865 (5.8). On March 28th, Homer sketched Grant & Lincoln at City Point, Va., and Two of Sheridan’s Scouts/Sketched near Hatchers Run/in front of Petersburg. It is believed that Homer had come to Petersburg because he was a true patriot and wanted to be near by at the end of the war. There is no evidence to suggest how he knew the war was coming to an end, but Gerdts in the official Homer raisonne also agrees that his motive was most likely his strong sense of patriotism; … or that his motive for the trip was other than an impulse to be present at a significant moment in national history  (5.9). It is also possible that he was preparing for his fourth tour of the war with Barlow as his escort.

According to the official Homer historical record Homer’s whereabouts were unknown after March 28th up until April 27 when he showed at the National Academy of Design annual exhibition in New York City. It is quite probable that he was still nearby Petersburg and/or the battle area at the end of the war on April 9th. Clearly he would have had ample time to visit the wooden wagon bridge battle site and his good friend General Barlow before finding his way back to New York on April 27—18 days later! A train ride combined with horse and buggy, or even a steam ship part of the way, from New York to Petersburg, Virginia, in those days was approximately a two to four day adventure. It is not difficult to imagine that Watching the Shot could be based on Homer’s onsite observation of the wooden wagon bridge at the High Bridge battle area. Knowing Homer’s strong sense of nationalism, the pure joy of the war’s end, and a first hand account from Barlow, it seems very Homer-like to take full advantage of the opportunity to create a historical battle scene such as, Watching the Shot.

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