Returned Volunteer: How The Fort Was Taken

Object Number: 
Overall: 19 1/2 x 14 1/4 x 10 in. ( 49.5 x 36.2 x 23.5 cm )
signed: front of anvil block: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK" inscribed: front of base: "RETURNED VOLUNTEER/ HOW THE FORT WAS TAKEN" inscribed: proper right side of base: "PATENTED/ MAY 17 1864"
Genre figure.
Gallery Label: 
This bronze served as the master model for the plasters that Rogers sold to a broad audience of middle-class Americans. In September 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, Rogers wrote that he was working on a new group that he expected to be his most popular yet. He had just begun using bronze master models to cast his sculptures, which allowed him to create larger and more complex compositions that approach paintings in their detail and narrative power. Here he depicted a triumphant returning soldier visiting the local blacksmith, whose tools he is using to recount a battle; he has made a fortification on the floor at right, and a horseshoe and nails at left represent the opposing battery. The soldier is every bit the conquering hero, handsome, fervent, and still in full uniform. However, he crouches at the right of the composition, and the blacksmith stands at the apex. His age is indicated by his baldness and glasses, but he is of brawny and classicized proportions; veins bulge in his arms, and he is physically larger than the soldier, particularly when the two men's hands are compared. He easily rests his hammer on his anvil and watches the soldier's tale being played out on the floor of his workshop. At left a little girl shyly raises her apron to her mouth in a childlike gesture while grasping one of the blacksmith's mammoth fingers in her hand. Rogers was known for celebrating the everyday honor and courage of rank-and-file soldiers. But in this sculpture it is unclear exactly who the hero is; Rogers gave equal prominence to the older man who presumably stayed at home plying his trade and caring for his family. Rogers himself did not volunteer to serve and may have had a personal stake in ennobling both the civilian and the soldier (his draft notice arrived in April 1865, just weeks before the war ended). Rogers conceived the group a few months after the New York draft riots. March 1, 1863, marked the passage of the Enrollment Act, instituting the first Union draft. It was meant to encourage volunteering, but it backfired tragically. The law allowed draftees to commute their service by paying a fee of three hundred dollars or by hiring a substitute, and many complained that the dispensation made the conflict "a rich man's war, but a poor man's fight." For four days in July, New York erupted in a rampage of looting and violence in protest, resulting in 105 dead. Perhaps in response, Rogers offered a reassuring example of a vital young man returned safely home after a Union triumph, while also affirming the importance of those who stayed behind. Ultimately, it proved one of his most popular groups and remained in his sales catalogue until 1889, long after he had stopped offering his other Civil War subjects for sale.
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 1, 3, 4, New York Historical Society. "Fine Arts," The Evening Post, New York, Nov. 24, 1863, p. 2. New-York Daily Tribune, Jan. 15, 1864, p. 8. "Sketches of American Artists: Church, Bierstadt, Kensett, Gifford, Inness, Rogers, Story and Ward," The Evening Post, New York, June 25, 1864, p.1. Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, July 14, 1865, n.p. Tuckerman, Henry T., Book of the Artists, American Artist Life, Comprising Biographical and Critical Sketches of American Artists: Preceded by an Historical Account of the Rise and Progress of Art in America, New York: P. Putnam & Son, 1867, pp. 595-7. Wells, Samuel R., ed., "John Rogers, the Sculptor," American Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated," Vol. 49, no. 9, September 1869, pp. 329-30. Barck, Dorothy, "Rogers Group in the Museum of the New-York Historical Society," New-York Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. XVI, No. 3, October, 1932, p. 78. Smith, Mrs. and Mrs. Chetwood, Rogers Groups: Thought and Wrought by John Rogers, Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed & Co., 1934, pp.68-9. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 100, 210-1. Wallace, David H., "The Art of John Rogers: So Real and So True," American Art Journal, November, 1972, pp. 59-70. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 88-9. Clapper, Michael, "Reconstructing a Family: John Rogers's Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations," Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 39, No. 4, Winter 2004, pp. 259-78.
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Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group