"Surprise Attack Near Harpers Ferry" by John A. Mooney

John A. Mooney (c. 1843–1918)
Surprise Attack Near Harper's Ferry
c. 1868
Oil on canvas
54 1/8 x 96¼ inches
Museum purchase; 1989.01.120

What at first glance appears to be a painting that portrays a number of men bathing in a river, is actually a painting that depicts a moment of complete fear. Unaware of the Federal troops in the distance, these Confederate soldiers, longing for a moment of solitude, decide to bathe in the Potomac River. Suddenly, a barrage of cannon fire, indicated by the smoke in the background, erupts. The men scramble out of the water to the nearest shoreline and frantically search for cover. Some stop to grab their clothing, while others are too scared.

For John Mooney, Surprise Attack Near Harpers Ferry was a painting created from memory with the use of models in his studio. Mooney enlisted as a private in the 10th Regiment of the Georgia infantry and saw the harsh realities of the Civil War firsthand. The artist was among these soldiers the day that the Federal army began firing toward the Potomac River. It was not until after the war ended in 1865, that Mooney decided to become a painter and show others, in the truest way possible, what he had experienced during the war.