Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Bivouac of the Dead" A Then and Now Examination

     Nearly ten years ago, I set out to find the location of a photograph that had intrigued me for a good many years. The image shows a battle scarred tree, riddled with bullets and set upon by an ax. Nailed to it was a sign board bearing a stanza from the Theodore O'Hara poem, "Bivouac of the Dead". Visitors to our National Cemeteries will recognize the poem, originally written to honor America soldiers killed in the Mexican War. Its stanzas are usually displayed at intervals amongst the rows of stones. To make a long story short, my readers can visit a previous posting containing a podcast of a talk I gave in Charlottesville in March of 2013. Therein you will find more in-depth information on this and other images, taken under the direction of Dr. Reed Brockway Bontecou in April 1866. Additionally, I wrote an article which appeared in the April 2009 issue of Civil War Times Magazine, covering much of the same material. The original glass, stereo negatives had numbers scratched into their emulsion, thus you will see, oddly placed numbers in some prints from the series.
     The purpose for this posting is as a continuation of my study, and obsession, with this collection of images. As seen below, a severely damaged landscape extends beyond the tree. In the left, middle distance, just below the treeline, is the McCoull House, one of the Spotsylvania Battlefield's noted landmarks, unfortunately destroyed by fire in the early twentieth century, but nevertheless, thoroughly photo documented before its demise. Recognizing that structure is what brought about my identification of this site, and the path Bontecou and his entourage took in creating the series. Out of 121 known images taken, only 65 percent survive in print form. None of the original negatives are known to survive today.
     Initially thought to be a piece of board siding from a nearby structure, my examinations determined that the sign was painted on a grave marker, one of undoubtedly thousands supplied by the Quartermaster's Department in the the summer of 1865 to a Union burial party searching the battlefields around Fredericksburg for northern remains. The haste with which both armies exited the region in May 1864, left numerous bodies unburied or in shallow graves. Northern homefront sentiment expressed concern that the recently defeated southerners would desecrate the remains of Union dead, thus an exhaustive effort was made to locate and gather them with legible headboards. Sadly, most would be marked, "Unknown U.S. Soldier". Marking these graves were uniformly prepared boards with arched tops and routed edges. Skilled sign painters were among those performing this task, as evidenced by the precise lettering seen in these photographs and a few surviving originals. It was from one of these relics, on loan to the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, that I obtained measurements by which I was able to create an exact-size replica of the sign on the tree. Based on these figures, it is also possible to now determine the height at which it was affixed, roughly ten feet, and the diameter of the tree, at approximately 17 inches. Based on documents found in the National Archives, I was able to determine that this image was taken on or about April 13, 1866. Knowing the location and date also allows an approximate exposure time of 8:30 a.m., Civil War time, which is 9:41 modern time, on that date, based on allowances for Daylight Savings Time and the creation of Railway Time in 1883. Shadows, and the amount of sunlight cast on surfaces, functions as a historic sundial, placing a time stamp of sorts on much of Bontecou's journey.

Based on the location and position of the McCoull House, this view looks nearly
due south, across the rear of the Confederate line, behind the Bloody Angle.
Note the sunlight, and shadow created by the tree.
Holding the replica sign, near the location of the original tree, looking south.
Taken at 9:45 a.m., on Sunday, April 13, 2014, 148 years after the original.
A close-up of my replica, near the site of the original photograph.
The original, remnant marker, on loan to F&SNMP, examined
 and measured by me on December 9, 2008, at Chancellorsville VC.
In my work space, March 21, 2013, laying the scaled template on
the prepared board. The board is of exact dimensions and was kindly
 cut and routed by my good friend, Dan Spear, of Stevenson Ridge,
from an antique board salvaged in a house restoration project.
Photograph "96" (number scratched backwards, and flipped, in emulsion
gives the incorrect appearance of "69"), looking roughly 233 degrees
southwest, from a camera position approximately 48 feet east of the tree
with the sign, seen at left center. This creates a triangulation that helped
determine the location of both images. The distant ridge is the field across which
Colonel Emory Upton made his May 10, 1864 assault on the Confederate works. 
The same site, 9:59 a.m., on Sunday, April 13, 2014, 148 years
 after the original image was taken. Note the sunlight and shadows.
Joseph Sanford's Hotel, also known as the Spotswood Inn, seen
at approximately 3:14 p.m., April 13, 1864. The photographic 
wagon is parked in front, at extreme right. This is image number 113.
The same view at 4:25 p.m., Sunday, April 13, 2014, 148 years later.
Image number 114, taken shortly after the previous image. This view
is captioned "Cash Corner" perhaps alluding to the money-making
potential of this corner, located across from Spotsylvania Court House.
The community well is at left of the wall surrounding the Court House lawn.
The same view today at 4:31 p.m., looking across Route 208. The 
wall around the Court House lawn was removed in 1900. The large,
brick house, seen in the 1866 view, burned in 1930.

     As many of my friends and associates know, there is a forthcoming book on this series of images, and the story behind them. I have a very patient publisher who took interest in October of 2004. Time to wrap it up. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The First Day of Peace - 149 Years Ago Today - 4/10/14

     We are still one year away from the Sesquicentennial observance of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse. Yesterday, the pre-one fiftieth was recognized across the internet blogosphere. I chose to sit it out until today, in quiet contemplation of the intended peace that was to come to the reunited nation after April 9, 1865. A peace that took a great deal of convincing for many, after a fitful reconstruction era. A peace that some, even to this day, view with a jaundiced eye. It is unsettling that there are those that continue to discuss the late unpleasantness with a coveted "presentism", people from both ends of the political spectrum. It is unjust to think we are capable of applying the mindset of a population five generations after they lived. No matter how we believe their emotions, loves, and hates can remain applicable to our lives, there has to be a separation. Are the sins of the father really laid upon the children? I am aware that for some these words will ring hollow. I just think it is time we see what we face today, as a nation, and unburden ourselves of perceived slights. I say these things as a nonpartisan, someone who has ancestors who fought for the north and the south. Demonization has got to go.

 The McLean House, where the signing of the surrender documents took place.
 Photograph by Timothy O'Sullivan, April 1865.
March 31, 2012. A similar view of a rebuilt McLean House.
 Site of some of the last moments of conflict in the morning hours of April 9, 1865.
 Appomattox Courthouse and village, site of the formal surrender ceremony on April 12, 1865.
The visage of Robert E. Lee, and the sword he wore to meet with Grant, on display
during opening day tours of the Appomattox branch of the Museum of the Confederacy,
March 31, 2012. The MOC is now "The American Civil War Museum". Details here.
 Visitors gather around displays at the Appomattox branch of the former MOC. March 31, 2012.
 "The Museum of the Confederacy’s mission is to serve as the preeminent world center
 for the display, study, interpretation, commemoration, and preservation of the history
 and artifacts of the Confederate States of America."https://www.moc.org/
Some of the artifacts on display. Opening day, March 31, 2012.
One of the most poignant displays contains no artifacts, just a lifesize tableau.
"Their son heads off to war." A family's pride and anguish.
Other displays examine the use of the Confederate Battle Flag, in reverence and kitsch.
Members of the 23rd Regiment United States Colored Troops, and the 54th Massachusetts,
served as escort to "General Grant", prior to the museum's opening ceremony, March 31, 2012.
"Reunification of the Nation", is symbolized by the flags of all the 
former succeeded states, along with the Stars and Stripes.
There is no "Confederate" flag displayed in front of the museum building. 
Protesters from the "Virginia Flaggers", and "Mechanized Cavalry"
were on hand to object to the omission of a Confederate flag out front of the
facility, labeling the museum directors as "scalawags and carpetbaggers".
During the opening ceremony, an airplane buzzed overhead, drowning out the speakers.
Behind the plane was a flowing banner, declaring "Reunification by the Bayonet".

Friday, March 21, 2014

Grant's Army, Crossing the Rapidan - Then and Now

     Yesterday was the first day of spring for 2014, and very soon we will be within the 150th anniversary of the Spring Campaign of 1864, what would become the Overland Campaign in Virginia. The winter encampments of the two armies were bustling with activity and anticipation of what the fourth year of war would bring. On May 5th they would clash in the Wilderness region of Orange and Spotsylvania Counties. With the Union armies under a new General-in-Chief since March 9, things would change dramatically, in the Eastern Theater especially. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant would bring a tenacity to the table, one that would demonstrate a commitment to end the war in short order. This would be the beginning of the last year of the conflict.
     In the predawn hours of May 4, the Federal 5th and 6th Corps began their way across two pontoon bridges at Germanna Ford, on the Rapidan River. Photographer Timothy O'Sullivan, an employee of Alexander Gardner, was perched on the Orange County side to record the movement, standing where a previously destroyed bridge had brought travelers across in a more peaceful time. The stone abutments of that bridge are visible at left of center. In post-war years other bridges would be built and replaced several times. Today's double span of State Route 3 was completed 1987, providing an interesting contrast to the two, temporary canvas pontoon bridges that spanned the space below them, a century and a half before.
     O'Sullivan created a triptych of sorts, forming a panoramic view. The video below focuses on the left most image of the three.

      Looking slightly northwest, Union supply wagons are seen along the horizon, moving toward the bridgehead, in O'Sullivan's image. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
January 18, 2009
 O'Sullivan's other two exposures, looking gradually more north and northeast.
 Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.

A similar view to O'Sullivan's northeast view, January 18, 2009.
Click any of the images for larger examination.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Advance Look at New Section of North Anna Battlefield Park - Official Opening May 24, 2014

     One of the most interesting Civil War landscapes in Virginia is, without a doubt, the North Anna Battlefield Park, in Hanover County. In the early 1990's, nearly 80 acres were set aside by a quarry company, containing most of the west face of General Lee's "Inverted V" trenchline, with its apex on a bluff overlooking Ox Ford. Here, just days after the culmination of the Spotsylvania Campaign, the Army of Northern Virginia had Grant and Meade's forces precariously straddling the North Anna, with three corps dangerously susceptible to piecemeal annihilation. Due to the ineptness of his lieutenants at the time, and suffering from a debilitating intestinal ailment, Lee was not able to take advantage of the situation and thus lost his last realistic opportunity for a southern victory in the war. 
     Now maintained by the Hanover County's Parks and Recreation Department, the park offers a finely interpreted trail system that follows along much of the old Ox Ford Road and sections of the Confederate trenches. With a grand opening on May 24, 2014, the new trails will cover ground north of the current park, following the advance and retreat routes of the hapless, Union General James H. Ledlie's 9th Corps Brigade, as well as an elaborate set of earthworks constructed by Samuel Crawford's Division of the 5th Corps. Your blog host took an advance look at the progress on March 11, 2014. 
     Looking northwest, down the first leg of the new path from current Stop 7. The little ravine and stream at center is where the 57th Massachusetts Infantry were pinned down prior to the push by the 12th Mississippi Infantry to sweep them from the field. Colonel Charles Chandler fell mortally wounded in this ravine, dying in Confederate hands later that evening. The Union forces began to fall back, up the slope seen in the distance.
     Looking  to the east, partway up the sloping retreat route of Ledlie's Brigade, back toward the section of ravine where the 56th Massachusetts were on the 57th's left flank. A new observation deck can be seen at left.
     Looking northeast, toward the construction of a massive bridge that will take visitors on an extensive trail system following 9th Corps advance and retreat routes, an observation point looking toward Fall's Mill, and a network of beautifully preserved entrenchments of Crawford's 5th Corps Division.
The new, 90 acre section, has more than doubled the total land now protected, up from 75 acres.
The trail leads to a nice view of the North Anna, looking toward the falls just north of Ox Ford.
Further upstream, on a high bluff, are the entrenched works of Crawford's Division of the 5th Corps.
Hanover County Parks and Rec. employees are busy blazing the new trail to have it ready for May.
     In early 1992, your blog host was a model for military artist, Donna Neary's work that became the official painting of the park, which was originally commissioned by the General Crushed Stone, the quarry company owning the land at the time. The four amigos are seen below, twenty-two years ago, the day all the reference photos were taken by Neary. Left to right are: John Cummings, Lee Trolan, Rick Hooker, and William Sumner. Trolan, Hooker and Sumner all went on to appear in the movie Gettysburg. Sumner played the distinctive role of the unnamed Confederate that kills General John Reynolds.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Petersburg Siege - A Look at Bollingbrook Street Battle Damage - Then and Now

     Shortly after the fall of Petersburg on April 2, 1865, a photographic record was created of the once posh residential neighborhood along Bollingbrook Street. The nine images I will examine here, are all linked to one home in particular, the "Dunlop House". The structure once sat in the southwest corner of the intersection of Bollingbrook and 4th Street. Virtually nothing remains today of this house or its surrounding structures. The Dunlop house was the primary element of an entire block, bordered on the east by 4th Street, the west by an alley that was an extension of Phoenix Street, that ran on the north side of Bollingbrook, and on the south side by Lombard Street, known today as East Bank Street. It had a finely appointed yard and garden with a pond, and numerous outbuildings. It appears the entire site was wiped clean in the early 1900's and became a warehouse facility. For this posting, I am going to utilize Google Earth for the "now" views, and will in the near future replace them with true, on-site photographs of my own taking, which will provide somewhat more accurate comparisons to the period images. For now, these will get the point across, and with relatively decent results. Click any image for larger inspection. All period images are from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
     One of the most graphic images, which I will number 1-10 as we reference them throughout this post, is an interior view, looking essentially east, out a badly damaged window. Brick and plaster debris covers the floor. Slightly visible outside the window, are neighboring structures, a brick, twin dwelling, and a frame house just beyond. Adjusting the contrast allows for a more detailed examination of those structure's porches.
Image # 1
Enlargement of Image #1 with contrast adjusted.
From Google Earth Street View, a similar view on 4th Street,
looking east, with Bollingbrook along the left. 
Image # 2, the Dunlop House, looking southwest from the 
intersection of Bollingbrook with 4th Street.
Image # 2, modern view from Google Earth. This building 
occupies the entire site of the Dunlop property.
A close-up detail of the shell damaged window and wall.
Above, a detail of Image # 3, seen in its entirety below. The east wall of the Dunlop House 
is at center, and the neighboring structures seen through the window in 
Image # 1, are seen with their porches, as noted previously. 
Full view of Image # 3, looking slightly southwest,
 toward the intersection of Bollingbrook and 5th Street.
     Then and now comparison of Image # 3, utilizing Google Earth Street View, with surprising accuracy. The green, overhead door on the warehouse, where the Dunlop House stood, can be seen between the trees at right of center. 

Image # 4, looking west along Bollingbrook. Shell damaged
 dwellings on the north side of the Street are opposite Dunlop's House.
Modern view of Image # 4, utilizing Google Earth Street View.
Image # 5, looking northeast from the west yard at the Dunlop House.
At left edge of the image is the same damaged structure seen in
Image # 4. Also note the brick-lined pond in left foreground.
Comparison details of the residence on the north side of Bollingbrook, from Images #'s 4 and 5.
Four distinct points are annotated with red letters, detailing architectural elements and shell damage. 
Image # 6, showing "Phoenix Hall" on the east side of Phoenix Street, taken from the side yard
 of the Dunlop House, looking north, and showing greater detail of the brick-lined pond feature.
Close-up of the arched doorways of Phoenix Hall. These arches are visible between
 the residential porch columns in Image # 4. See the detail below.
Detail from Image # 4. Click for larger inspection.
A similar, modern view of Image # 6, seen from the street.
There is a slight possibility that elements of Phoenix Hall still remain in this structure.
Image # 7, looking southeast toward the back corner of the Dunlop garden.
Outbuilding incorporated into a surrounding brick wall. Residential structures
are visible in the left and right background along the south side of Lombard,
now East Bank Street. None of these structures stands today.
Image # 8 provides what you will recognize as a close-up of the shattered 
front door of the Dunlop House, visible in Image # 2. View is looking south.
Modern view, to right,  achieved utilizing Google Earth Street View.

Image # 9 above, and # 10, seen below, have been identified in their period captions
and continuously by scholars today, as back yard views at the Dunlop House. Based on
the previous images, especially # 5 which shows a clearly different building than the one above,
I suspect that they may depict a neighboring structure. Further examination and archive research
should clear this up. I am looking to return to Petersburg in the next month or two for on-site study

Below is a detail from an 1891 Sanborn Map showing the area.
     The Dunlop site is at lower left, above Lombard, with the "L" shaped structures, marked "Glass Rm. Hot Houses", in the middle of the block. Note the vacant space of its upper left corner where the pond was situated. Note also in its lower right is the corner building seen in Image # 7. The neighboring buildings are easily noted, with the apparent absence of Phoenix Hall, which may have been partially cleared by then.