Matthew Maury was one of the leading nautical thinkers
of his day. His pioneering efforts at charting the
winds and currents of the worlds oceans helped
to make oceanography a practical science. With the
start of hostilities in the spring of 1861, Maury
resigned his post as superintendent of the U.S.
Naval Observatory and offered his services to the
In Richmond, Maury set to work upon the development
of underwater torpedoes. Others before him had
experimented with such electrically charged devices,
but Maury was the first American to use them successfully
in battle. Their effectiveness was attested to
by Secretary of Navy Gideon Welles, who reported
to Congress after the war that the federal navy
had lost more vessels from Confederate torpedoes
than from all other causes combined.
Maury sat for the original plaster version of
his portrait by the Richmond sculptor Edward Valentine
over a period of four days. After its completion
in February 1869, the artist declared it the best
likeness he had ever modeled.