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  Seth Eastman's Fort Paintings
Principal Fortifications of the United States
 Fort Delaware, Delaware
(1870-1875) by Seth Eastman
 Fort Delaware, Delaware 

The low block of this large fort is poised between sky and water, its tranquil reflection contributing to the pleasantly calm effect of Seth Eastman’s depiction. The sky is filled with gently animated clouds, and a sure handling of the space, from the darker, skillfully detailed foreground to the light-filled distance, marks the whole painting.

Fort Delaware was built on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River, below Wilmington and New Castle, Delaware. The first fortification on the island was constructed soon after the War of 1812 to protect Philadelphia and its harbor as well as the dynamite and munitions plants near Wilmington. It was demolished in 1833. The present structure was erected between 1848 and 1859, becoming the largest fort in the country. During the Civil War, beginning in 1862, the island became a prison for captured Confederates and local Southern sympathizers. They were housed not in the fort proper but in wooden barracks that soon covered much of the island. Most of the Confederates captured at Gettysburg were imprisoned there. By August 1863, there were 12,500 prisoners on the island; by war’s end, it had held some 40,000 men. The conditions were predictably notorious, and about 2,900 prisoners died at Fort Delaware. Although the benign appearance of the postwar fort in Eastman’s painting might have seemed ironic to late 19th-century viewers, it is also true that Delaware’s guns never fired a shot during its entire history.

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  Principal Fortifications of the United States

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