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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.

"...you 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.

3 comments:

Gene West said...

Nice story about And photographs about North Anna, especially like the toggle of then and now photo....well done

Todd Berkoff said...

Hi John,

So it wasn't clear from the post, but are we assessing that the enclosed fortifications where the officers are sitting is Henagan's Redoubt on the north side of the river OR another fortification. I am not aware of other enclosed fortifications like this besides Henagan's Redoubt, which would make the most sense for an artillery battery to occupy since it commands the bridge and entire south side.

As few years back, I was able to hike from the wartime Lowry house (still standing) on the south side of the river, along the old Telegraph Road, to the Chesterfield Bridge site. Most people have only visited the bridge site from the north side. Looking up at Henagan's Redoubt from the south side, one appreciates its imposing presence. I also was able to find remaining 2nd Corps and 9th Corps earthworks near the Lowry House extending west toward the river.

John Cummings said...

Hello Todd,

Yes, that image was taken on the north side, based on all assessments.

John