10 historic American naval battles memorialized in art

by | May 29, 2023 | Maritime Art, Culture and History

There is nothing beautiful about war. It is savage and nasty. For some reason, however, art depicting naval battles has a strong power to attract viewers. The chaotic scenes of smoke and fire as ships and men try to destroy each other are certainly dramatic. Some may even think them beautiful.

The following works of art feature 10 historic battles involving American naval forces. Click on the images to magnify them.

Hurrah! Hurrah! For ev’ry Yankee tar

— line from ‘You’re a Grand Old Flag’ an American patriotic march song

Destruction of HMS Augusta in the Delaware River, 23 October 1777
Oil painting by unidentified naval officer, circa 1977
Courtesy of US Naval History and Heritage Command

The Augusta was destroyed by fire and powder magazine explosion off Fort Mifflin, Pennsylvania, during an engagement with American forces. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

Battle of Boston Harbor, USS Chesapeake and HMS Shannon
Layered reverse glass painting, circa 1820
Isiah Whyte (American, 19th century)
Courtesy of Vallejo Gallery, California

The capture of USS Chesapeake, also known as the Battle of Boston Harbor, was fought on 1 June 1813, between the Royal Navy frigate HMS Shannon and the United States Navy frigate USS Chesapeake, as part of the War of 1812 between the United States and the United Kingdom. (Wikipedia)

The Battle of the USS Kearsarge and the CSS Alabama
Oil on canvas, 1864
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Manet’s first known seascape is an imaginative depiction of an American Civil War naval battle fought off the coast of France, near Cherbourg, on June 19, 1864. In the distance, the C.S.S. Alabama, a scourge of Union shipping, sinks by her stern, clouds of smoke arising from a direct hit to her engines by the U.S.S. Kearsarge, which is mostly obscured from view. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Perry’s Famous Victory on Lake Erie War 1812
Curt Teich postcard, 1924
Courtesy of CARLI Digital Collections, Illinois

Battle of Lake Erie, (Sept. 10, 1813), major U.S. naval victory in the War of 1812, ensuring U.S. control over Lake Erie and precluding any territorial cession in the Northwest to Great Britain in the peace settlement. (Britannica)

Battle of Mobile Bay
Oil on linen, 1886
Julian Oliver Davidson (American, 1853–1894)
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Battle of Mobile Bay (5–23 August 1864), naval engagement of the American Civil War during which Union Admiral David Farragut succeeded in sealing off the port of Mobile, Alabama, from Confederate blockade runners. (Britannica)

Capture of the Tripoli by the Enterprise
Oil on canvas, c. 1806–1812
Thomas Birch (Engligh-born American, (1779 – 1851)
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

At the turn of the 19th century, conflict arose between the United States of America and the North African Barbary State of Tripoli. President Thomas Jefferson refused to continue to pay tribute or ransom to Tripoli to prevent the pirating of American merchant ships sailing in the Mediterranean Sea. Jefferson dispatched the American ship Enterprise to the Tripolitan waters as a sign of resistance just as Tripoli increased its tribute demands and declared war against the United States. (Art Institute of Chicago)

USS Constitution vs HMS Guerriere
Oil on canvas, c. 1960
Anton Otto Fischer (German-born American, 1882–1962)
Courtesy of the US Naval History and Heritage Command

USS Constitution vs HMS Guerriere was a battle between an American and British ship during the War of 1812, about 400 miles (640 km) southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Wikipedia)

Capture of the American Frigate South Carolina by the British ship Diomede and Frigates Quebec and Astrea
Watercolour, 1782
Artist unknown
Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada via Wikimedia Commons

The Battle of the Delaware Capes or the 3rd Battle of Delaware Bay was a naval engagement that was fought off the Delaware River towards the end of the American Revolutionary War. The battle took place on 20 and 21 December 1782, some three weeks after the signing of the preliminary articles of peace between Great Britain and the former American colonies. It was an engagement between three British Royal Navy frigates HMS Diomede, Quebec and Astraea on the one side, and the South Carolina Navy’s 40-gun frigate South Carolina, the brigs Hope and Constance, and the schooner Seagrove on the other. The British were victorious, with only Seagrove escaping capture. (Wikipedia)


Batalla de Santiago de Cuba
Ildefonso Sanz Doménech (1863-1937)
Courtesy of Benjamín Núñez González
Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 4.0

Battle of Santiago de Cuba, (July 3, 1898), concluding naval engagement, near Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, of the Spanish-American War, which sealed the U.S. victory over the Spaniards. (Britannica)

The great naval battle off Gavite (Manila) fought May 1st, 1898, 5:30 A.M. till 12:50 P.M. (noon)
Lithograph by unidentified artist
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

At top centre of the print is a vignette of Admiral George Dewey, US naval commander who defeated the Spanish fleet.

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