Painting of Fighting Top by William Gilkerson
William Gilkerson painted this watercolor in the early 1990s. He signed the painting with his last initial, “G,” in its lower right corner. This painting eventually became the cover image of Gilkerson’s 1993 book Boarders Away Volume II: Firearms of the Age of Fighting Sail.
The painting shows approximately 15 Marines firing from the mainmast fighting top with muskets and a howitzer, like this one in the USS Constitution Museum Collection. A fighting top is a platform positioned high up on a ship’s mast. From this elevated position, sailors could easily fire down on opposing crews during naval battles. Howitzers were used like large shotguns, and could hit a large portion of the enemy deck with canister shot. Howitzers remained in use until the beginning of the American Civil War, when the use of firearms in the fighting tops was abandoned because of how dangerous it is.