This luminous work depicts the American merchant brigantine E. MILLER. The sun sits low behind the ship, illuminating the sky with colors of yellow and deep rose tones. The sun has just touched the sea at the ship's bow and around her stern, creating a halo of light in the small waves. The E. Miller is in full sail with sailors active on her deck, with her brightly colored name pennant snapping in the wind alongside the American flag and company flag. Though unsigned, this is clearly the work of artist Elisha Tyler Baker. Baker only signed about a third of his paintings, so this is not unusual for the artist. The rendering of the vessel to his touch in the sea and sky all give very clear clues that the work is his.
Though little information remains about her voyages we know the ship E. MILLER was built in Virginia by the Surry Company in 1856 and had a weight of 132 tons. Sailing out of Richmond she was also known to frequent the port of Baltimore. From Richmond she would have carried out agricultural goods, lumber, and iron, while importing manufactured goods and guano to fertilize Virginia's tobacco fields.
Given that she was built before the Civil War and was ported in Richmond throughout the war, it's likely the E. MILLER was involved in moving goods to supply Confederate forces.
The route up the James River into Richmond was vital to the Confederacy, second only in importance to the Mississippi River as a trade route. Smaller boats moved materials such as pig iron and coal from Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and Piedmont regions into Richmond for shipment out to other ports. After the loss of Norfolk, Richmond became the state's major port, naval base, and shipbuilding facility. As a result the area around Richmond saw significant combat, including actions between the Confederate and Union navies. Later the river and port aided large-scale movement of Union troops and military supplies.
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