Battlefield Guide Services

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Supplemental Material re: blog post of May 25, 2016. Image details, and Lt. Ames' fate.

     An observation made during an all over review of yesterday's primary image, reveals what is apparently the coat and sword belt of Battery G's captain, Nelson Ames, hanging from the branches of the tree above the seated group. It is easy to distinguish the scabbard of the saber (perhaps an 1840 model?), as well as the holster for a revolver and the hanger straps. The coat has captains shoulder bars. Captain Nelson Ames was the cousin of Lieutenant Albert N. Ames, author of the letter quoted here in the May 25th post. Nelson is referred to as " The Capt." in Albert's letter, and can be seen with his back essentially to the camera, blurred from movement during the image exposure.
     Not an earth shattering detail, but interesting to note, and otherwise missed.

 The detail.
The full image.

     Albert was mortally wounded by a sharpshooter near Petersburg on September 26, 1864, at Fort Morton, about a third of a mile east of the site of the Crater. He was less than a month shy of his 26th birthday.
     Below is the New York, Civil War Muster Roll Abstract for Lt. Albert N. Ames

1st Lieutenant Albert N. Ames
Identified by his own description, noted in his May 29, 1864 letter home.

"I sat in a Rebel chair also, with a towel over my lap, a tin plate on the towel, 
in my shirt sleeves and my cap off..."

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Question of Date: North Anna Photographs Re-examined, 152 years later...

     It has been said that several images taken by photographer Timothy O'Sullivan along the North Anna River were made on May 25, 1864. The first we see here, looking to the southwest, across a reversed section of Henagan's Redoubt, has been dated to the 25th since the publication of William A. Frassanito's, Grant and Lee, The Virginia Campaigns 1864-1865, published in 1983.
     In 1998, a regimental history for the 7th New York Heavy Artillery was published in a limited first edition of 1,000 copies, entitled, Carnival of Blood, by Robert Keating. Discussing the activities of the regiment on May 25, Keating quotes a letter written by a 1st Lieutenant from the 1st New York Light Artillery, Battery G, Albert Ames. The Ames letter was written to his family on May 29, and in great detail describes the making of the photograph. The full image is seen below, followed by the quoted section of the letter.

" will see the officers of our Battery at dinner. The Capt. sits in a Rebel chair taken from a house demolished, and I sat in a Rebel chair also, with a towel over my lap, a tin plate on the towel, in my shirt sleeves and my cap off...the men, part of them laying around under the shade made by pieces of tents and on feather beds, some on a mattress, some had old dresses for pillows taken from the ruins of the house...." 
     As you can see, every detail is as Ames describes it, written within less than a week of the image being taken. Bear in mind, photographer O'Sullivan was not creating prints of his images out in the field, so it's not as if Ames was looking at the finished product. He was graphically recounting the particulars of the moment. The original letter is in the New York State Library in a collection of Ames' papers, donated by a family member. A link to that inventory can be found here.

     An additional image, seen below, taken within the same time frame as the previous, was earlier presented in one of my blog posts from 2012, and can be found at this link.

     On March 21st, 2012, a follower of this blog named Andy, commented regarding the earlier posting, that due to the Ames quote, the soldiers seen in the photograph would be members of 2nd Corps regiments, something that is contrary to the fact that the 2nd Corps had been relocated to the south side of the river not long after 5:30 PM on the previous day, May 24. However...
     Not having seen the entire contents of the Ames letter yet myself, it is uncertain if it was Ames providing an incorrect date (but clearly not the wrong details) of O'Sullivan's image taking, or did Robert Keating make an assumption on the date of the photographs from having familiarity with William Frassanito's work on the subject? Could this image have actually been taken on May 24? This would imply an interruption in O'Sullivan's creation of the series of photos taken around the Chesterfield Bridge area, something not totally inconceivable. Thus, assertions that soldiers seen in both images here are members of 9th Corps units is suspect since they would not have occupied this position until late on the 24th and into the 25th. 
     Additionally, the Library of Congress holds in its collection a print from O'Sullivan's stereo negative with other images identified as the Chesterfield Bridge area, bearing a May 24 date, written on its mount. These are post-war printings, glued on pages similar to those in the MOLLUS collection with a printing date of 1884.That image is seen below.

     Lastly, for added interest sake, friend and fellow blogger John Banks kindly assembled a slider version of my then and now pairing from the 2012 posting. Grab the toggle at center with your cursor and move it back and forth.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Human Wreckage of the Wilderness - Dr. Bontecou's Documentation

     One hundred and fifty-two years ago today, the armies of north and south clashed in a forbidding landscape, partly along the Orange Plank Road, in western Spotsylvania County, Virginia. The two day engagement left nearly four thousand killed and close to another twenty-five thousand wounded, captured or missing. A large number of the dead were left where they fell, some receiving hardly a thin earthen shroud to cover them. Two years later, their then skeletonized remains dotted the shot-torn woods, some alone, others gathered into groups. The remains of the Union dead had been collected and interred by a burial crew dispatched by the Federal government the previous summer. The southern dead were largely left in situ.

     In April of 1866, Dr. Reed Brockway Bontecou visited the battlefields around Fredericksburg. Bontecou was a talented surgeon with the Union Army, and by war's end was the head of Harewood Hospital outside of Washington, D.C.. As part of documenting soldiers under his care, Bontecou began to photograph their condition, and healing wounds. These images became part of the Armed Forces Museum of Pathology, known today as the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

     While passing through the Wilderness region, Bontecou was accompanied by a photographic entourage, headed by William Bell, the chief photographer for the Surgeon General's Office. Much of what they recorded showed remains of earthworks and shattered trees. Some however showed the bleaching bones of the dead. Out of all of them, one image in particular shows considerable detail of three skulls, partly surfaced to the elements, along the Orange Plank Road,

     Along with the photographic record, Bontecou collected numerous pathological specimens, human crania that bore the effects of the projectiles that killed them, often times still found rattling inside, and retained to be wired to the side of the specimen. They are maintained in the museum collection to this day. Due to the details visible in the above photograph, I was able to determine that the center skull was one of the ones retained for the collection. There has been unfortunate postmortem loss of teeth, along with apparent misplacement of the mandible, but the visible trauma to the right rear and a pronounced fracture across the forehead make this a clear match that would stand up in a court of law.

July 6, 2010, finding the matching specimen at the NMHM, Walter Reed Hospital.
Detail from the April 1866 photograph taken on the Orange Plank Road.
The same skull as it resides in the collection of the National Museum of Health and Medicine.
AFIP 1001057

The garish wound that ended this man's life.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Real-Time Tour of Dr. Bontecou's Spotsylvania Photographs - April 13, 2016. Join Us!

National Park Service News Release

For Immediate Release - March 30, 2016

Contact Name: John Hennessy 540-693-3200 x 4010  

Spotsylvania, VA - The National Park Service has announced a special 150th tour—a tour not pegged to a battle, but rather to an effort to photograph Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield just a year after the end of the war. Join photo-historian John Cummings and Chief Historian John Hennessy as they visit the sites of several famous images taken on April 13, 1866, precisely 150 years after those images were taken.

The Story: During the second week April of 1866, United States Army Surgeon Reed Brockway Bontecou traveled to the former battlefields around Fredericksburg. Bontecou collected medical specimens (some still survive), but most importantly brought along a photographic team from the Surgeon General’s Office in Washington, D.C. Moving over the area battlefields, the group created a series of 121 stereo images on glass negatives showing a landscape ravaged by war. The views include famous images taken on the morning of April 13, 1866, at the Bloody Angle, the McCoull farm, and of Laurel Hill at Spotsylvania.

The Tour: On Wednesday morning, April 13, we will follow the footsteps of Bontecou and his photographer as the sun moves across the sky and the shadows shift with the passage of time. Learn about these powerful images that today give us the most vivid look at Spotsylvania’s wartime appearance. Mr. Cummings has done years of research and field work on these images.

Meet at the Bloody Angle Stop parking lot, Tour Stop 3 on the Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield. The program will start promptly at 9:30. The tour will include just under 2.5 miles of walking across mostly gentle terrain, along established trails. Bring water and snacks. The tour will conclude about noon.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Battlefield of First Manassas - Then and Now, Isolating the Details, and Camera Location

     The camera location for this March 1862 photograph by Barnard and Gibson has been speculated on for many years, and in the March/April 2004 issue of Military Images Magazine it was examined by historians Keith Knote and James Burgess. Their work placed it along a former fence line on the Robinson Farm, overlooking Henry Hill and the ground to its east. In October of 2015, The Center for Civil War Photography ventured to Manassas for its annual seminar, taking their attendees along the same tree/fence line, to a similar location selected by the group's vice president, Garry Adelman, and published previously in his 2011 book, Manassas Battlefields Then and Now. In December of 2015, the National Park Service installed numerous new interpretive signs throughout the Manassas National Battlefield Park, including one based on the work of Knote and Burgess, but located some 90 yards east of their original suggested camera position. 
     Beginning on October 29, 2015, and concluding on December 4, I began my own investigations of the site, with the initial intention of duplicating the necessary elevation of the camera suggested by Knote, Burgess, and Adelman, a height all had postulated was made by the Barnard and Gibson camera being placed on the roof of a barn or similar structure. My idea was to work along the fence line, beginning at the furthest southeast corner of the suggested Robinson fence, and make adjustments as I went. It was easy, going into the project, to automatically assume the fence seen in the foreground of the original stereoview was indeed the same site found today, just as my predecessors had done. Start with what seems to be the obvious. However, even with mounting fences, and using my fully extended tripod as a pole mount for my camera, the topography of the ground got in the way, all along the line, in varying degrees of obstruction. It became quickly apparent that the original camera position could not have been along the assumed line. The one solid detail in the image, without a doubt, and agreed on by all, was the ruins of the Henry House, anchoring the right horizon line. The foreground fence, and seeming orchard, were problematic, as period maps of the battlefield certainly suggested it should be the Robinson fence. I have found that, despite what we might assume, especially with the seeming vastness of the ground shown, the Barnard and Gibson camera position is roughly 136 yards further south than assumed and slightly east, on a different rise altogether, very close to an older park wayside marker titled, Confederates Rally. This location provides a much more realistic view of the ravine-like feature that runs through the middle ground of the 1862 image. The illusion of the ground seeming to be a deeper expanse is due in part to the elevation of the camera and the visual effect of foreshortening, There are only finite possibilities when dealing with this image when accounting for the angle with which we see the Henry House chimney, and the clearly defined topographic features of the ground beyond the ravine. One element that must be ignored is the automatic assumption that the large group of trees in the left of the modern view correlate to the smaller group seen in 1862. They simply are not witness trees. 

     Then and Now comparison of the far side of the ravine. Extremely tall grass obstructs all of the foreground in the modern view. The topographic map at the end of this post confirms the ground.

Detail 1
    Zoom in detail of the Henry House ruins. Notice the topographic features still visible today, below.
Scaling was based on an 8 ft approximate height for the chimney base and toppled framing timbers.

Detail 2
Zoom in detail of the ground occupied by Rickett's Battery. The topographic features remain, below. 

Detail 3
    The Bartow marker location at left of center, along the documented fence running toward the modern Visitor Center, as seen below. Notice the small white objects in the period detail, near where the base of the original monument sits today wedged between two trees. These are in all likelihood the scattered pieces of the monument, (the largest possibly being the base itself) having been broken up not long before by Union soldiers, and documented by one who witnessed the incident, in a letter to a friend, and linked here:  On one part of the field I saw a monument erected by Beauregard to the memory of a rebel general. On it was the following inscription, “Boys, they have killed me, but don’t give up the fight.” At the time I saw it, it was standing & whole, but after a short time, I saw that it had been torn down & the boys were busily at work smashing it in pieces for mementoes. 

A topographic overlay of the ground with 2 ft contours. 
(A) denotes the CCWP/Adelman suggested camera location.
(B) denotes the new NPS marker based on the Knote and Burgess research.
(C) denotes the approximate location I suggest, with the black arrow pointing in the 
center direction of the Barnard and Gibson photograph. Map courtesy of Prince William County.
 The CCWP/ Adelman suggested site, based on Knote and Burgess. The topography does not work.
The new MNBP wayside marker, based on Knote and Burgess. The distance is too great.
Full frame of my suggested camera location. Elevated camera height, approximately nine feet. 
Grass in foreground, to beyond ravine, is extremely tall, more than five feet in some areas.

The author, working on the site, elevating camera. Photo by James Anderson.

All original contents copyright 2016 by John F. Cummings III

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Gettysburg - Field Where Reynolds Fell - Stereoview Then and Now, and more...

     I am now two weeks away from the fourth anniversary of my initial investigations into the location of Gettysburg's "Harvest of Death", and "Field Where Reynolds Fell" photo series. Over the four years I have made some early adjustments as to the camera position on the field, but have not wavered from the one key element of my work, that the Thompson House is sitting in the upper right horizon of the O'Sullivan view titled, "Gettysburg, Pa. Bodies of Federal soldiers, killed on July 1, near the McPherson woods". This has been fought tooth and nail by the Center for Civil War Photography's co-founder and vice-president, Garry Adelman. In late October this year, he showed a giant anaglyph of the "Federal dead on the right of the Federal lines, killed on July 1" variation, taken by James Gibson, while telling a walking tour he was conducting about the "importance of seeing these images in stereo" when attempting to find their location. Yes, yes indeed Garry, it is vital. Below, I provide stereo pairings from the original O'Sullivan negatives, and a modern stereo pair I made in September. I don't make anaglyphs so pull out your real viewers, such as those issued with the first two Bob Zeller books, or old CCWP seminars, and take a look. Click on the images to see them in larger format as well, especially if the right hand column of this blog interferes with your viewing from the home page.
Get your viewers ready!

     If you are new to all this hubbub, take time to review some of the more recent postings I have made here, especially the ones featuring videos with overlays. Please read my dissection of the actual Harvest of Death photograph companion image as well. In four years I have provided plenty of evidence that the location is found, yet the steadfast denials still spill forth. How many supposed coincidences of "similar ground" but not "the" place can be asserted before it gets ridiculous? All the logic in the world, and the topographic evidence, along with the ORIGINAL CAPTIONING for Pete's sake! Let's see where this goes! 

Here is a little video to lay out the location of this series. Enjoy.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Gettysburg - Harvest of Death, etc debate - More Details... A quick post with video

    Just a quick post, with a video using the Gibson exposure of the view looking to the northeast.
The video points out many of the finer details the photograph shows, and how they relate to today's landscape. The video explains everything regarding the images. Watch the video in full screen.

Click on the photos below for larger viewing.

Detail from Gibson exposure.

Detail from Elliott map with mass Union Burial at left (HoD),
and additional details explained in video.

Overlay detail using O'Sullivan exposure.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Gettysburg - Harvest of Death and Field Where Reynolds Fell - Time to stop the debate

     Next month, on November 18, I will mark the fourth anniversary of my investigations into the Harvest of Death/Field Where General Reynolds Fell photos. My adventure began as support to the work of historian Scott Hartwig who had published his findings initially on the Gettysburg, NPS Blog, and later in the magazine, Civil War Times. Hartwig's work was immediately met with resistance by Garry Adelman of the Center For Civil War Photography. Adelman's position was that William A. Frassanito had discounted the site years before. Adelman proceeded to produce a thirteen part dissection of where the Harvest of Death was not, demonstrating numerous past proposals by himself and other investigators, include Mr. Hartwig and my own. That series appeared over several months on the Gettysburg Daily Blog. The episodes concerning my work were filmed on February 5 and 15 of 2012, but were not posted until May, months after my continuing work had been adjusted and fine tuned. Nowhere in this time (or since) was Mr. Adelman welcoming to my offers of meeting with him and actually presenting my material in person, something that I had assumed courtesy would permit. Thus, when posted, Adelman's refutations of my work featured a site long out of line with the ground I had settled on, and he has since adamantly stated that the true location will "never be found". Certain circles consider Mr. Adelman's word to be sacrosanct. This has recently led others to offer wide ranging proposals of the "true" location of the Harvest of Death, making it the obsessively desired, "Tut's Tomb", of Civil War photography.

    The foundation of my work has always been based on what I have stated to be a long visible clue in the upper right hand corner of Timothy O'Sullivan's exposure, titled by Gardner, "Field where General Reynolds Fell". It has been consistently my assertion, over many blog postings and other writings, that the features on the horizon are the Thompson House, and the Dustman House. The Dustman House no longer stands, but appears in other photographs, so we know what it looked like, and we know exactly where it stood. The Thompson House, of course, remains today as the site of Lee's Headquarters, on Chambersburg Pike, and is soon to be restored by the Civil War Trust.

     I will not repeat my previous material, as it stands on its own and is easily found by searching this blog, but I will present two brief videos made after a recent return trip to the site on September 25th. Here I demonstrate, using overlays, that the landscape just east of the Reynolds death marker, along Reynolds Avenue, is, clearly, the location of the bodies seen in the July 1863 images.

     What I continue to find sad about the deniers of this site, is that when I visited the location on the 150th anniversary of Gardner's team's visit, my wife and I, and fellow blogger Scott Manning, were the only people there to recognize the dead and the ground they fell on. Scott's coverage of that day can be found here. This is what we do our research for in the end, so that these honored dead can be appreciably recognized for where they fought and died, and hopefully we can achieve a better understand of the battlefield.

     Below, the first video shows the full, left hand side of Timothy O'Sullivan's stereo negative, with my toggling back and forth between the period and modern images, pointing out important features.
View the videos in full screen.

Below, I have zoomed in for a closer view of the horizon features as well as the contoured land between. As mention in the previous video, James Anderson stands in the modern image along the location of the northern fence that enclosed the "Field Where General Reynolds Fell".

Below, are three progressive views of the overlay used in the videos.

Below, my October 2012 map of the camera's field of view, indicated in bright green.

Below, a close up of the area where the northern fence enclosed the field.
The beginning and ending points of the path taken by James Anderson for 
the September 25, 2015 photo used in the overlay video, are marked "A" and "B".
The approximate point at which he is stopped along the way is marked by "J"
This image is not made from the above map, and shows notation lines of other points
 not discussed in this presentation.

For four years I have not wavered in my assertion we are seeing the Thompson House on the horizon. It is the vital clue to anchoring the location. The evidence speaks for itself.

Since last night's posting, I am adding these of the opposite view for those who have not read my previous material. Please, examine my numerous prior posts, Enter "Harvest of Death"in the search box near the top of the right hand column. There is plenty to see.

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.