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Currier Lithograph of the Battle of Resaca de la Palma in Texas


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393.     [MEXICAN-AMERICAN WAR]. CURRIER, N[athaniel]. Battle of Resaca de la Palma May 9th 1846. Capture of Genl. Vega by the gallant Capt. May [below neat line] Lith. & Pub. by N. Currier, | Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1846 by N. Currier, in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the Southern District of N.Y. | 33 Spruce St. N.Y. New York, 1846. Lithograph of battle scene with original hand coloring, neat line to neat line: 20 x 32.5 cm; image including title: 21.6 x 32.5 cm; overall sheet size: 34 x 26.3 cm. Scattered minor foxing and spotting, some marginal tears and chipping (not affecting image or text), two blank corners wanting, old tape repairs on verso, adhered to mat board by cello tape. A good copy with excellent color. Matted, framed, and under glass.

     Conningham 426. Gale, Currier & Ives: A Catalogue Raisonné 477. Peters, Currier & Ives, Vol. I, p. 238; Vol. II, p. 193, (Checklist #955). Ratcliff, Painting Texas History to 1900, p. 58 (illustrated, Fig. 43): “The initial engagements of the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma were the most important actions fought on Texas soil during the Mexican War. Lithography, a rapidly developing method of illustration, disseminated visual images of these and other engagements of the war to large numbers of Americans.” Sandweiss, et al., Eyewitness to War, p. 20 (illustrated, Fig. 6). Not in Garrett & Goodwin, The Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. Tyler, The Mexican War: A Lithographic Record, p. 16 (#7):

The most popular incident to occur in the battle of Resaca de la Palma was Captain Charles May’s capture of Mexican Brigadier General Rómulo Díaz de la Vega at the height of the battle when General Taylor ordered Captain May and his dragoons to take out the Mexican artillery battery that was preventing the Americans from breaking through the Mexican lines. May enthusiastically undertook the task, supposedly riding up to Captain Randolph Ridgely, who was engaged in a stand-off with the Mexican battery, and saying, “Hello, Ridgely, where is that battery? I am ordered to charge it.” Ridgely reportedly answered, “Hold on, Charley, till I draw their fire and you will see where they are.”

When the batteries exchanged fire, May charged off at full gallop. They cleared the Mexican cannon, but their momentum carried them beyond the battery and exposed them to heavy fire. They lost all discipline and, because they had not waited for infantry support, could not hold the artillery. They returned to American lines with several prisoners, including General Díaz de la Vega, who was captured by a bugler, although May claimed credit for the deed himself. Taylor ordered the 5th and 8th Infantries to finish the task.

This incident received great publicity, leading Mexican War historian Justin Smith to conclude that May was a “newspaper hero.” He might well have added a “popular print hero,” for at least nine prints of May’s purported deed and several portraits were published. Most of them, like Nathaniel Currier’s Battle of Resaca de la Palma May 9th 1846. Capture of Genl. Vega by the Gallant Capt. May, show May racing past a Mexican cannon to grab the general and depict him, alternately, as a long-haired, bearded hero or as a Roman centurion. Others show him at the beginning of the charge. All are probably based on the newspaper accounts of the incident.

     According to Sandweiss, the incident as depicted in this image is probably inaccurate. Because May’s dragoons overran the cannons, an alternate image showing de la Vega being captured from behind is possibly the more accurate one. Historical authenticity likely mattered little to the U.S. public, however.


Sold. Hammer: $375.00; Price Realized: $450.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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