Thursday, August 18, 2011

1887 Gathering Appears to Have Been at East Angle

In his August 16, 2011 blog posting at Mysteries and Conundrums, NPS historian Eric Mink presented a fascinating group of images taken during a visit to the Fredericksburg Area Battlefields by veterans of the 57th and 59th Massachusetts regiments. The May 1887 trip included a visit to the Mule Shoe Salient at Spotsylvania. The back of the original image has a hand written notation identifying it as:
 "May 1887 - Bloody Angle Spotsylvania May 12, 1864, and near the Bullet Splintered tree." 

My own inquisitiveness, and further prompting by mutual blog reader Todd Berkoff, brought me out to the field yesterday to examine the terrain and see how the current appearance of the landscape matched up with that of 1887. Following the north face of the salient from the Bloody Angle toward the east, I came to find that the image appears to have been taken much closer to the "East Angle", about 220 yards beyond the "Bloody Angle", and the fabled "22 inch" tree felled by small arms fire. In the modern view below, the bridge in the middle distance is the recently rebuilt bridge over the Confederate works, just before they begin to turn to form the east face of the salient. The direction is roughly 97 degrees south east. Click on both images to enlarge.  Notice the man at center in the dark coat and light colored hat looks to be holding a plate or canteen half, along with a discarded musket ramrod, probable relics found nearby.


The approximate, modern view above, was taken around 5:30 PM, on August 17, 2011.

12 comments:

Larry G said...

a little confusing... the fence in the original photo...

does that essentially parallel the modern day path between the treeline and the open field?

or is that fence at a perpendicular angle to the current day tree line?

I think this points out the difficulty in interpreting things like this to lay people... looking at the contemporary landscape....

John Cummings said...

Larry,

What I am suggesting is seen here in the original, is a fence line that runs directly overtop of the trench, thus it would be running essentially parallel to the interior path (former paved road)prior to it taking its turn toward the south. Easiest way to arrive at this spot is to take the rubber mulch path (north face) to the monuments in front of the Bloody Angle past the new "middle bridge", getting then on the grass, to continue following along the north face of the Salient. As you arrive new the furthest bridge step out slightly (north) into the field and begin to adjust your line of sight into an ever so slight south east direction. You will notice the distant ridge seen at middle and left distance. The further back you step and/or lower the height of your eyes/camera, you will begin to see that ridge rise and fall to arrive at the approximate level seen by the 1887 camera. With only the berm of the trench and vanishing point of the former fence to compare with the distant ridge, we can make a fairly good approximate in my opinion. If you would like to meet me out there one morning on your walk, let me know, and I will be happy to discuss this and any other point of interest you may have. It has been a while.
John Cummings

AMccook said...

Might that be the same tree we see in the original photo? When lining them up and dissolving one into the other and vice-versa the countour of the ground and the tree seems to match up perfectly..one only need imagine a fence there

John Cummings said...

It is very possible that there is a relationship with the tree seen in the 1887 image and that which stands there today. Thank you for your comment and observations.

Todd Berkoff said...

John, thanks so much for your follow-up research on this photo. Looks like my hunch was correct. Not too shabby all the way from Tampa, Florida! Without the ability to zoom on either photo, it does appear that there is a continuation of the trenches on the left side BOTH photos -- which indicates to me that this is indeed the East Angle, and not the West/Bloody Angle. Great work!

John Cummings said...

Todd,

The trench actually passes just beyond the bridge in the modern photo and then begins its swing to the right as it starts to form the actual east angle. Since you have not yet been able to enlarge either image with your current computer access, it seems the slight "ridge beyond a ridge" (as I might attempt to describe it), gives an illusion of a berm extending to the left in the middle foreground. If I can find a moment to prepare a map of the ground I will add it to the post.

John Cummings

Anonymous said...

John - I'm gonna have to disagree with you on the placement of the fence in the 1887 photo. If the fence were directly on top of the trenches, than the trenches must have been reduced significantly in size in only 23 years. Also, if that is the case than we have seen little to no erosion of the earthworks in the past 125 years. I'm pretty sure that's not the case. Other photos from this visit, that were taken of the earthworks themselves, show the trenches as being back in the woods, behind the fence.

- Eric Mink

John Cummings said...

Eric,

I think we can see that there was significant reduction of the trenches along that line in just two years, evidenced by the Bontecou photograph #96, taken in April 1866.
I would like to see the other 1887 image to determine the possible location of the works you mention as being in the woods. We know there were secondary lines and even sections of the apex area still inside woodlines as well as greatly reduced sections of trees directly behind the Bloody Angle. There was a mixed bag. The long, straight section of the Salient we see in both your post and the one Mr. Hennessy posted (taken at clearly different dates I know), still provide evidence that the Landram and McCoull property line was being clearly defined by the owners with this fence, which must have existed prior to the battle and the establishment of the Confederate works along its length. This is why I hold that the fence is on top of or straddling the trench.
Thanks for your thoughts.

John Cummings

Anonymous said...

OK. I guess we will have to agree to disagree.

- Eric Mink

John Cummings said...

Eric,

Nothing wrong with that if you'd prefer. I would still like to see that other picture and whatever caption it may have on front or back.

John Cummings

Todd Berkoff said...

One thing that continues to confuse me in the 1887 photo are the 1) thick woods beyond the fenceline and the 2) woodline on the left side. In the modern photo, the area on the other side of the fence is cleared of trees -- and the treeline on the left side of the photo appears to be several hundreds yards farther back than the treeline in the 1887 photo. I realize the battlefield's vegetation has changed since the War, but just wanted to flag for the group.

John Cummings said...

Todd,

The trees on the inside of the1887 fenceline has been heavily cleared, some of which dates to the construction of the park road in the 1930s. The double ridge feature line up on each other though, with some degree of change in the distant woodline, beginning at about 300 yards distance and gradually increasing as it angles deeper to the left of the image.
Anybody who will walk the feature with me and discuss what we see on site is welcome to come along. I would appreciate especially if Mr. Mink from the Park would do so.

Thank you,
John Cummings