Battlefield Guide Services

Friday, September 16, 2016

And Just Like That - GONE! The Minor House is no more...

     Some final photographs delivered by our friend Stephen Masters, who has been on-site today, documenting the tragic loss of one of Northern Virginia's historic treasures. Admittedly, the Minor House was lost before today due to obscurity. With additions and expansions during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the house faded from view. Its historical importance forgotten as the neighborhood grew around it, only to be revealed at the eleventh hour like so many preservation losses, usually too late to have a happy ending.
     Stephen has logged many personal hours in an effort to save the Minor House. Sadly, the battle is lost. I am very appreciative of Stephen's determination and his continual updates.
     These final images show the remnants of the log structure and stone fireplace, its hearths having seen innumerable faces warming themselves since possibly the late 1700s. Thus is the passage of the centuries, and the fading of memories.
     Attached, by this link, is a pdf report of historical assessment by Fairfax County ARB and History Commission.

As always, click on any of the following images for larger viewing.

 Note the extending length of the chimney as the house grew around it vertically.

 The triangular design fireplace once served separate rooms. 

The Minor House - Supplemental Photographs as the clock keeps ticking...

     More modern images from our friend Stephen Masters. As the bulldozer draws nearer, here are some then and now glimpses. Many thanks to Stephen for his work on trying to save this landmark.
Please read my prior posts on the history of this structure. For those of you coming in new, the original Minor House was a log structure with wood siding. By the early 20th century there was a brick facade added as well as a second floor. There were later expansions and additions. Currently, the oldest section remains, but it is coming down soon to make way for new homes as has been done in the surrounding neighborhood.
     Besides its Civil War history, as recorded in photographs taken in January 1862, the house was also the site of refuge for Dolley Madison during the British burning of government buildings in Washington, D.C., including the Capital and White House, in 1814.

 January 1862
September 15, 2016
Where the Union observation and signal tower stood.

 Large Union encampments covered the fields beyond the hill,
now the site of suburban sprawl. nearly 155 years later.
Review of the 17th New York Infantry at Minors Hill.
Their encampment is seen behind.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Minor House - Coming Down! History Lost

Our friend Stephen Masters brings us very sad news today. The Minor House is coming down. When an asking price of two million, and a 24 hour deadline produced no results, the bulldozers began to remove the early twentieth century expansion of the house. As seen in the following photos, the door and window openings of the original section are quite apparent, despite the overlay of brick on the log structure, and the addition of a second floor.
See our prior posts in July and August regarding the history and location of the structure.

The first image is the most telling, and brings us to the only "then and now" that we will ever see, as the entire structure will soon be leveled.

September 15, 2016.
Photo by Stephen Masters
The tower stood among the debris pile.
January 1862
September 15, 2016
Photo by Stephen Masters

September 15, 2016
Photo by Stephen Masters
General McClellan stood in front of this doorway, as seen in the 
January 1862 photograph below. The original camera position would
 have been located in the area behind the red truck, seen at right.

As close as we will ever see.

Monday, August 15, 2016

McClellan at Minor House, Fairfax County, Virginia - Then and Now (Updated)

     Sadly, the much altered original structure is about to meet the wrecking ball, but thanks to our intrepid reader, Stephen Masters, we are able to provide a then and now look at the spot where General McClellan posed with other officers on the front lawn of the house, in January 1862.
See also the July 24 post linked here.

January 1862. McClellan at center with hand on stump.

     August 2016. This is the best, approximate angle available today due to the hedges in front of the house. The stump would have sat just inside the ell-shaped bend in front of the tree and hedge, at center. Of course, the original camera angle is coming on a diagonal to the left, from the right, as illustrated in my scale diagram below.

     McClellan's position is indicated by the red dot, to the right of the stump, indicated in brown.
The larger brown dot is the approximate location of the larger, mangled tree in the left, rear distance of the January 1862 photograph. Four approximate post locations mark the nearby signal and observation tower, to the right.

     Here are two additional views of the front entrance to the original house, approximating the angle of the McClellan photo, but from a much tighter camera position, so that the wing at left is visible. Both photos supplied courtesy of Stephen Masters. For clarification to those who are just now coming into this information, the original log structure (which had board siding) was bricked over many years ago, turned into a two-story structure and had an addition attached to the east face.

The neighborhood today.
Close up with the original house, outlined in red. Tower to the right.
Original camera position indicated, looking northwest.
View showing tower to east of the Minor House.

     There is also a much larger history to the Minor House and its property beyond the McClellan photograph, one that includes the fact that both President James Madison and wife Dolley came here as the government fled the burning of Washington in 1814. The President arrived here looking for his wife but not finding her, continued on to Falls Church. Dolley arrived later and is said to have spent two nights there. 

Additional information can be found at the Wikipedia link provided by clicking here.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Blog Reader Locates Minor House - Soon to be demolished! Updated 7/25/2016

Recently, a reader of this site, Stephen Masters, left comments to this blog's August and October 2013 postings regarding the location of the Minor House in Fairfax County, Virginia. On a site once inside the Falls Church boundary, the original structure has been absorbed by several additions since the Civil War, and is currently slated to be demolished to make way for new construction. Masters has indicated he will supply images of the interior of the building, detailing the original log walls and chimney.

The site is approximately 430 yards slightly northwest of my previous suggested location. There had been prior indication that the house was long demolished.

This is all exciting, yet sad news if the building will not be preserved. It is fortunate that we can now know the true location of the following January 1862 photographs, including one that shows General McClellan meeting with officers outside.
Click on images for larger examination.

 "Then", in January 1862.
 This is an approximate "now" image of the above January 1862 photograph,
courtesy of Google Earth Street View. The trees unfortunately block the building, at center.

View from Google Earth indicating the original structure, outlined in red, and the approximate location of the nearby signal tower, also marked in red. Click image for larger examination.
The McClellan mystery photo as solved in the August 19, 2013 posting. Click link.

My previous site suggestion appeared in the October 2, 2013 posting, to which Stephen Masters commented recently, alerting us to the true location and impending demolition.

As stated in the beginning of this update, we were hopeful to have
 photographs of the structure as it stands today, both inside and exterior.
Below, with kind permission of Stephen Masters, here are comparison 
images of the structure as it stands today. More will be posted soon.

 The original building is the left hand portion, since converted to two-story.
Circled is a side entrance on the east face, as it appeared in 1862.
Further enlargement of the entrance.
Stephen Master's view of that side entrance as it looks today.
The original log structure was bricked over.

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.