A Great National Painting: James Walker’s The Battle of Gettysburg: Repulse of Longstreet’s Assault, July 3, 1863
Six years in the making, James Walker’s twenty-foot long The Battle of Gettysburg debuted in Boston on March 14, 1870. No less than five major Boston newspapers lauded the work’s sweep and substance, praising its “remarkable minuteness and comprehensiveness and . . . fidelity.” Indeed, several of the generals depicted in the work (Longstreet, Meade, Hancock, Webb, Hall, and others) vouched for its accuracy—and its pathos. After its first appearance, The Battle of Gettysburg embarked on a cross-country tour with owner, the historian John Badger Bachelder, to “delight and instruct” American audiences. The popularity of the picture and the narrative of the battle of Gettysburg generated a souvenir market including guide books, descriptive keys, and small-scale print reproductions. This commercial industry around Walker’s panoramic painting enabled Bachelder to shape popular perceptions on how Americans interpreted the battle that continue to the present day.
A native of Washington State, Erin R. Corrales-Diaz is the assistant curator of American art at the Worcester Art Museum. Previously, she was the curator of the Johnson Collection and a visiting scholar of art history at Wofford and Converse Colleges. Corrales-Diaz received her doctorate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in 2016 with a dissertation titled “Remembering the Veteran: Disability, Trauma, and the American Civil War, 1861–1915.” Her research has been supported by numerous institutions, including the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Wintertur Museum, Garden and Library.