Battlefield Guide Services

Monday, February 7, 2011

Manassas - Another Project nears completion

Those who know me are aware that I have been working several book projects in tandem. One regarding local photography is close to seven years in the mix. However, in the next few weeks, I anticipate sending another finished manuscript to the publisher, this time focusing on the Manassas Battlefields.

Before moving to Spotsylvania, I lived in Northern Virginia, in Fairfax County, for thirty-nine years. Growing up within ten miles of Manassas/Bull Run, enabled me to nurture my early interest in Civil War history, and I visited the battlefield there countless times, both as a child with my parents and even more frequently as a young adult. There has always been something strangely alluring about the Manassas Battlefield for me, something incorporeal.  Logically, all the battlefields should manifest these same conditions, but with every return trip I make to the "Plains of Manassas", I am reinforced with these strange emotions.

My Manassas project is heavily built on "then & now" comparrison photographs. Oftentimes in doing this comparrison work, one finds the landscape has changed over a century and half to such an extent that true side by side alignment is difficult to impossible, particularly when the subject matter sits within a wooded area.

Last week (February 2), I took the opportunity to revisit one last time before finishing, an area that normally is obscurred by heavy foliage within trees. My goal there was to use a recent snow fall to provide a better ground contrast against the trees and background sky. I was delighted with the results since prior attempts were at other times of the year, and failed to show the terrain features needed for a true "then & now" match up.

The black and white image below is the original wartime photograph taken in March 1862, showing two boys knealing in front of a row of water logged soldier burials. The site is on a small, flat, bottom area in front of the west face of the ridge that Sudley Church sits on. The church can be seen through the trees at upper left. After the Battle of First Bull Run, in July 1861, this area was used for a field hospital, along with the church building. As is typical in such situations, soldiers who did not survive the ordeal were buried hastily in shallow graves nearby. 

Although the church building has been rebuilt since the Civil War, my modern, color photograph demonstrates the surrounding landscape has retained the same characteristics it displayed in 1862, especially the thin trees, albiet now entangled in thorny undergrowth. Fortunately, the property is still owned by the church and one can not anticipate an encroachment to destroy this hallowed ground.

My goal is to have this book in print by July, in time for the 150th Anniversary of First Manassas.

March 1862, by George N. Barnard
February 2011, by John F. Cummings III


Anonymous said...

Are there any stumps that appear to be cedar that were in the 1862 photo? Or rather are there any stumps in the modern view. I ask because at Gettysburg there is a cedar stump that is in a 1860 somthing photo there that you can still see today due to the resistance to rot that cedar has. I love these Now and Then photos.

Jubilo said...

Dear Sir,
Thanks for posting this poignant image .

Todd Berkoff said...

John - excellent post. Any idea who those children are? And are they paying their respects to the graves of soldiers? It does look like hasty headboards infront of them.
- Todd Berkoff

John Cummings said...

Thanks for commenting.
At this point, I am uncertain who these children are, but they do appear in at least a half dozen images taken near the Sudley Church. The two boys appear to be wearing light blue or gray uniforms with kepis. They are clearly children (boys), along with what may be two girls seen by the Sudley Spring Crossing. Adult, Union Cavalrymen are in two images. Are they local children or traveling with the Union Cavalry? Good question. As for the graves, they have always been assumed to be soldier graves, quickly dug and crudely marked.

John Cummings said...

Thank you for commenting.
The area is usually very difficult to get around in. Hopefully I might have the opportunity to examine at great detail in the future and make note of potential stumps that could correlate.

Robert maresz said...

Great then-and-now piece, Mr. Cummings.Thank you very much.I'm glad you included nice large images to examine....I love this stuff! Were you able to identify the location of the graves/former graves? Robert

John Cummings said...

Thanks for your comment. The graves have long been relocated and their location can only be approximated in relation to the surrounding landscape and location of the original church structure's footing. I make every effort with my then & now pairs to make them so they can overlay directly on to each other, like lifting the veil of time.