This post has been revised to reflect the corrected findings of my October 6, 2012 return visit.
Be sure to read the October 12, 2012 post on this subject by clicking here. It contains more current information on the location.
Additional information can be found on the June 14, 2012 post by clicking here.
One of the most elusive group of Civil War battlefield photographs has been the image known as “The Harvest of Death” and its companion images, showing the same bodies from a near opposite angle. The group was made in the days following the battle, most probably July 6, 1863. There have been three prevailing theories as to the precise location of this ghastly scene. Since 1975, historian William A. Frassanito has felt comfortable in his belief that the group of photos was taken somewhere near the Rose Farm and the Emmitsburg Road. The greatest challenge has been in trying to locate a piece of land where all terrain features cooperate, in both directions, to make the theory work. Granted, doing this has been made even that more difficult by over a century’s growth and/or removal of wood lines and other obstructions, as well as potential modifications to the landscape surface. The mission has continued for another thirty-seven years as numerous investigators have scoured the battlefield landscape to find the right combination of elements.
Most recently, historian Jerry Coates has spent considerable time investigating an area south of Gettysburg, and west of the Emmitsburg Road. This theory stayed more within the confines of the original Frassanito analysis, but was supplemented by a more in depth study of the uniforms the dead are wearing and attempting to use this criteria to narrow down the numerical potential as to who they might have been and thus the field of battle these men would have been engaged on in July 1863. He has come up with very similar terrain and some good arguments.
However, my own investigative work has concluded that of all these prevailing theories, the one that seems to come the closest is Scott Hartwig’s on the first day’s battlefield. But, although very well founded and assembled with sound judgment, Hartwig’s theorized location has its faults and can be termed with the old expression, “Right church, wrong pew.”
What all the prevailing theories lacked was a concrete feature or landmark that would anchor the image to an indisputable location. My examination of the series of images has discovered what appears to be that necessary clue. The clue has been available in plain sight to all that have looked at the glass negatives for the stereo pairs, and quite possibly the 8 X 10 glass negative, although that full image is not printed or available online presently by the Library of Congress, but is referred to by William Frassanito and shown in cropped form on page 227 of his Gettysburg: A Journey In Time. In many prints of the image entitled “Field where General Reynolds Fell”, the full image has been cropped and has thus removed the landmark feature. The landmark looks like none other than the residence of Mrs. Mary Thompson, known more famously as “Lee’s Headquarters”. In the upper right hand corner, again invariably cropped out in published formats, the house is easily discernible along the horizon line. It is understandable that it could be easily overlooked as just another shadow in the line of trees, but when magnified, and compared to wartime images of the structure, it becomes more than obvious. In utilizing the Thompson house as the anchor for this image, it becomes far easier to establish a camera position, and thus, possibly prove that Gardner’s original captioning was spot on as to the vicinity of the battlefield.