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