Thursday, August 27, 2015

172 Year Old Witness to Battle of Fredericksburg - Destroyed 8/27/15

     One of the last remaining pre-Civil War structures along lower Sophia Street in downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia, has succumb to years of neglect with an as of yet unspecified plan for the property. Initial efforts to preserve the 1843 structure were foiled the day before when removal of a later addition on the north face of 401 Sophia Street revealed severe termite damage, making any thought of restoration unfeasible.

     The building can be seen in several war era photographs of Fredericksburg taken from the Stafford County side of the Rappahannock River.

     National Park Service chief-historian, John Hennessy, wrote of the pending threat four years ago in the F&SNMP's blog, Mysteries and Conundrums.

     Update! It has now come out that University of Mary Washington students and faculty, of the Historic Preservation Department, were scheduled to document the structure on Saturday, August 29, but the "owners opted not to wait even that long."

     Below are details from period photographs along with photos and a link for a video taken the morning of the demolition.

 Images circa 1863-1864, F&SNMP, and Library of Congress
Prints and Photographs Division. Looking west, from the river.
Above, one of the last photographs taken of the river face of the building, looking west, at 8:37 AM, 
August 27, 2015. Remains of additions to the north face of the building are visible to the right,
 and foreground. The photos below were taken between 8:14 and 9:15 AM, 
 View from Sophia Street, looking southeast.

 Looking north on Sophia Street
 Looking southeast on Sophia Street.

 Visible termite damage of 1843 framework.
 North wall foundation exposed.

Looking northeast from Sophia Street.

 Above, Steve Smallwood, Deputy Director of Building Services Division for the City of Fredericksburg, and Erik Nelson, Senior Planner of the Fredericksburg City Planning Department, along with members of the demolition crew from Abby Construction, examine architectural elements from the debris. Below, an original roof truss and details of its construction.

Salvaged foundation stones and an oak beam from 401 Sophia Street.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Iconic Photograph of Gettysburg Dead is a Contrivance A Harvest of Death - Gardner's Artistry

     Tomorrow is the 152nd anniversary of the death of the men seen in this photograph, taken by Timothy O'Sullivan, and published by Alexander Gardner. This is the image that has caused countless clamorings, as to its precise location on the battlefield, since first examined in a scholarly form by William A. Frassanito in his groundbreaking work, Gettysburg - A Journey In Time, published in 1975. The print below is most typical of published versions as they appeared in Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War.

    Below we have, as described by Frassanito himself, in his 1995 in-depth study, Early Photography at Gettysburg, "one of the best versions currently available, courtesy of the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Va.". Its merits are owing to the rich tone and thorough burning of the "horizon line, much sharper than prints in other collections. However, this horizon line is not true, it is a fabrication created by an opaque masking applied to the glass negative as well as artistic embellishments made to multiple print copies that were rephotographed to achieve a marketable composition from a less than stellar original exposure. I offered this subject in a previous post in September of 2012. But, after nearly three years, and the virtually ignored sesquicentennial recognition of this image's honored dead, it is time that these facts are incorporated in our understanding of the true nature of its creation.
     In the copy below I have drawn a black line to delineate the upper third of Gardner's creation. This is the area that was contrived. The process is clearly evidenced by magnification and the existence of progressively modified prints in two other collections. 
     The first print we will examine comes from the collection of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, in Ithaca, NY. This version shows some of the first steps in defining distant ground as well as the appearance of a smudge or stain that will eventually become the basis of the "standing" figure. Notice the nonexistence of the mounted figure usually seen at left of center. Very evident pencil markings are seen, used to help define the horizon. This is one of the earliest stages in the creation of what was to become a century and a half old con job. 
     The next image, this time from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, shows the continued progression of the ruse. The identical pencil markings seen in the previous print can be seen along with penciled in suggestions of what would become shadow trees in the final version. Also evident is the further enhancement of the standing "smudge" man and the suggestion of a riderless horse. To the left of center is the crudely drawn beginnings of what will become the mounted figure. Over burning has begun to fill in the sky below an initial masking, creating the false horizon.
     For clarification purpose, here are the tops of the two prints so that the reader can see the gradual building up of the composition that we have come to know as A Harvest of Death.
Below, I have enlarged a detail of the Cornell print, showing the pencil work and the origins of "smudge man", and the clear absence of the mounted figure. Note the bright, artificial sky.

Here is the Library of Congress print with the same enlarged area. Identical pencil work, and the first suggestions of the additional mounted figure.
     The next three enlargements are from the Chrysler Museum print. There is a very obvious painted edge of the false trees, created by the application of opaque material to the glass negative. These are not real trees silhouetted against a bright sky, They are a darkening of the area not covered by the opaque masking with a longer exposure during the print out process. The pattern made by the brush bristles is evident as well. The remaining print has no strong, contrasting white area. It is muddied. Opaquing the sky was a common practice with Gardener. Many of his negative show this, and in this case the process was used to essentially create a piece of art from an otherwise flawed negative. Note also the shadow trees against the false tree line, identically place where the penciled trees appear in the Library of Congress copy. Gardner's stereo version was created with a similar process as I also documented in a post from June of 2013.

Additional material on this and its companion photograph are available at the links below:

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Spotsylvania Battle Landmark, GONE! Harris Farm House Destroyed!

     UPDATED 12/21/2014! See end of post for recent sale activity on the property!
Additional photos added to the post 9:15 am, 12/21/2014, showing the sad then and now.
Update 12/24/14: Articles from Fredericksburg news sources cover demolition. See bottom.

     It is a sad fact that last week the historically significant Harris Farm House was torn down. I found out early on December 20, but could not get to the site until after dark. Even in the pale remainder of twilight, it was clearly confirmed, the house is gone, along with the adjacent dairy farm buildings on the two acres that had survived after the rest of the property was subdivided years ago. The house itself, built circa 1755, was used as a field hospital during the May 19, 1864 fighting that took the name of Civil War era owner, Clement Harris. There were blood stains on the floor boards in several rooms and the central hallway. My own great-great-grandfather was treated there for a wound received in the action.

     This is a significant loss to the cultural resources of the Spotsylvania battlefield. Although continually on private property, the historical significance is undisputed. In recent years the house had been surrounded by new, high-end houses, some selling for well over a million dollars. The house was on the National Register of Historic Places since May of 2000. It is significant to point out that it survived one hundred and fifty years after the battle.

     I arrived early at the site on the morning after this initial posting, shortly after sunrise, and photographed the now empty lot. See additional image near end of post.

     The following images (first six) were taken by me on March 24, 2010. The next shows the empty lot in a similar view to image six. The last picture is from 1901, the year of the monument dedication on the property.

 The Harris House stands at distant center, down the end
 of the old driveway, surrounded by new construction.
 Approaching the house from an access road into the subdivision.

Then: View of the historic Harris House, March 24, 2010
NOW: Near same view on the morning of December 21, 2014. The historic Harris House: GONE!

The house as it looked from near the same angle in 1901, the year a monument was dedicated on the property to the 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, some of the Union forces engaged against those of Confederate General Richard Ewell, May 19, 1864.

Property had been sold on December 1st, along with 2.48 acres.
Here is a link to provide details on the property. Remember, what you see in the photos is now GONE forever!

Friday, May 23, 2014

O'Sullivan's Bethel Church Photographs - In Real-time - May 23, 2014 - A Sesquicentennial Examination

     Your blog host visited the site of General Burnside's temporary headquarters at Bethel Church today. Situated at a country road intersection, known these days as Paige, VA, this still active congregation sits about five and a half miles east of modern Route 1, and roughly nine and three quarter miles southeast of the Massaponax Church, site of my May 21st posting. Burnside occupied the church from 2:00 P.M. on May 22, until about an hour after sunrise on the 23rd. I arrived there myself, about 10:30 A.M., to make certain I would be around at the same time as photographer Timothy O'Sullivan, 150 years later, to the day. As it turned out, I would have about an hour long wait, watching the sun rise higher in the sky, and the shadows it created on the building grow longer. In that time I remained, for the most part, the lone occupant of the site, with the exception of five bicyclists that took a breather nearby, a mailman on his rounds, and sporadic through traffic. At the end of this post, the reader will find a two minutes video, shot while waiting for the sun to shift, where I discuss the movement of the shadows, and accounting for the differences in time from 1864 to today. In the past century and a half, the Earth's rotation has sped up and slowed down, it's a fact, but we are speaking of microseconds, and the Earth does wobble a bit, with many factors, including earthquakes, the gravitational pull of the sun, moon and other planets factoring in. But, we can, within reasonable expectations, be comfortable that we are seeing things pretty much as O'Sullivan and the soldiers he photographed that day, saw things, in real-time. I was also fortunate to have one unexpected condition answer a question that arose as I moved my camera about to near the same locations as my wet plate wielding predecessor. I will explain that further down.
O'Sullivan's stereoview, looking northwesterly, at about 10:13 A.M., Civil War time.
The view today, 150 years after, at 11:24 A.M., modern time.
O'Sullivan's southwesterly view, somewhere probably before or after the previous image.
I hesitate to place a time on this image, outside of the date, with any certainty, due to the
lack of strong shadows cast on the building. The large tree, and the figures are silhouetted,
giving indication that the sun is most likely in the same position as in the previous view, but... is a modern view, taken at 11:28 A.M., modern time, under an atmospheric
condition alluded to at the top of this post. What had me wondering, and I do
speak of it in the video below, is the absence of strong shadows in the period
image. And amazingly the answer presented itself, right as I set up to take the
present day view. Clouds! Scattered clouds blocked the sun right when I needed
them, and demonstrated that O'Sullivan was working with the same conditions.
The cloud cover creates a diffused light, softening the contrasts on the building walls.
And in this view, taken at 11:29 A.M., a minute later, the sun has again emerged,
showing that indeed the strong shadows are again revealed. After that the clouds
 pretty much burned off for several hours. I certainly felt blessed. Mystery solved.
Here is a full frontal view of the church, looking slightly southwest, taken at 11:25 A.M.,
modern time, which would approximate at 10:14 A.M., Civil War time, showing the 
configuration of the shadows seen in the first O'Sullivan view, at top. In the video
below, I go into a brief discussion of where the shadows fall on the easily 
countable courses of brick in the 1864 images. For all intents and purposes,
we are looking at Bethel Church at exactly 150 years after O'Sullivan's images.

Enlarged detail, with adjusted contrast, to reveal the shadows of approximately,
10:13 A.M., on the morning of May 23, 1864, as photographed by O'Sullivan.
Compare with the modern image seen above the video.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Massaponax Church, VA - Grant Writes a Dispatch - 150 Years Ago Today, To the Hour, In Real-Time - 5/21/2014

     In the late morning of May 21, 1864, Generals Grant and Meade met at the corner of The Massaponax Church Road and the Telegraph Road, known today as the Jefferson Davis Highway, or Route 1. At the Massaponax Church, pews were brought out for the "Council of War" about to take place at this crossroads. In the background of four images, taken from a second floor window by photographer Timothy O'Sullivan, a long train of wagons is passing, many with the emblem of the Union 5th Corps painted on their canvas sides.   Click any image for larger examination.
Timothy O'Sullivan's photograph, Gardner negative # 731, "Council of War": Gen. Ulysses S. Grant writing a dispatch. Approximate Civil War time is 10:47 A.M., based on a modern time of 11:58, for the image below.
Your blog host, sitting at the approximate location of the pew where Grant was seated. 
Taken from ground level, but from a slightly elevated and similarly angled view as O'Sullivan's.
Massaponax Church Road runs behind, intersecting with Route 1, the former Telegraph Road,

Your blog host reads the dispatch assumed to be the one Grant is writing in O'Sullivan's image.

     A fifth image was also taken that morning by O'Sullivan, approximately 45 minutes prior to the "Council of War" series. This view was taken from the eastern side of the intersection, looking approximately west. Members of Meade's headquarters guard, the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry, can be seen mingling amongst the soldiers gathered in the church yard. Based on shadows cast on the front of the church, we can approximate the time this image was taken as 10:00 A.M., Civil War time.
     Today, with adjustments for daylight savings time and railroad time, the modern time is 11:15. Strong shadows seen below the fascia today, are created by  a gutter that did not exist on the structure in 1864.
     An enlargement from Gardner negative # 729 shows the "time stamp" like shadows, on the front of the church. The shadow from the overhang above the fascia covers all but two course of brick above the windows. 
     A modern view taken from up close at 11: 24, demonstrates a slight lengthening of the shadow in the 9 minutes that has passed, as the sun reaches higher in the sky, and diminishing the width of the shadow at right.
     O'Sullivan's camera was positioned in the upper half of this window. The balcony floor can be seen just above the first row of panes on the upper sash.
     The two camera positions, marked by red flags, (A) inside the church, looking south, and (B) on the east side of the intersection, looking westward. Click for larger examination.