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The Winter Art Show

June 2024
1min read

John Ericsson was eighty-six when he died in his New York brownstone on March 8, 1889—twenty-seven years to the day after his hastily built, utterly revolutionary little ironclad Monitor had steamed out into Hampton Roads to engage with her two cannon the ten-gun Rebel ironclad Merrimack , which had spent the previous afternoon mauling the wooden ships of the helpless Federal fleet. The result, said Calvin Coolidge, with his underappreciated gift for the telling phrase, “did for the Union cause on the sea what the Battle of Gettysburg did for it on land.” And although the old inventor died broke (on his deathbed he had written a check for the last of his savings—seventy-five hundred dollars—so that his staff could be paid for another year) and all but forgotten, the Navy he had helped preserve remembered. So it was that on August 15, 1890, the brand new cruiser Baltimore bore his body down New York Bay while a dozen surviving monitors, standing close inshore, fired minute guns and the gleaming vessels of the modern Navy kept company. Then the escort fired a final salute, and the Baltimore went on alone out into the Atlantic, carrying Ericsson home to his native Sweden. The marine artist Edward Moran, stirred by the obsequies, painted The White Squadron’s Farewell Salute the next year.

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