Watching the Shot - a painting by Winslow Homer

Historical Clues: Possible Site of Watching the Shot

Watching the Shot

Possible Site of Watching the Shot

Speculation on the historical site of a Civil War battle in which the painted scene depicted in Watching the Shot suggests is based on Homer’s historical record of his visits to the war and his relationship with one man. A friend of Homer’s older brother Charles, Colonel Francis Channing Barlow (Fig. 5-1), had been Homer’s host when he traveled with the army in the spring of 1862 (5.1).

Fig. 5-1: Francis C. Barlow, Homer's
friend and host on his travels with
the army.
Library of Congress

Homers recorded history shows that he was with Barlow on at least one other occasion to observe the war first hand. Although there is substantial scholarly speculation that he traveled a total of three times to the war with Barlow as his escort. Barlow shows up in two of Homer’s Civil War paintings, Prisoners From the Front 1866, and Skirmish in the Wilderness 1864 (5.2). This is more than any other known person in Homer’s circle. It is this relationship with Barlow that may account for the bridge battle scene.

There were many battles for bridges in the Civil War. In fact, the Battle of Antietam in September 1862 featured a concrete bridge as part of the battle. Barlow was wounded at Antietam and was unable to return to duty until April 1863, at which time he was promoted to Brigadier General. As Homer spent several months with Barlow on subsequent trips to the front, it is quite likely that Homer would have heard the story of Antietam Bridge, perhaps first hand, from his good friend the Brigadier General. Watching the Shot has characteristics of the Battle for High Bridge, one of the final battles in the Civil War. Barlow was at the High Bridge Battle and his actions there significantly hastened the surrender of the South.

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