Battlefield Guide Services

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hospital Burial Site on the Carpenter Farm Located. Wilderness Battlefield. Then and Now...

     The photograph above is from the series made under the direction of Union Surgeon, Dr. Reed Bontecou in April 1866. It is identified as showing graves of Union dead on the James Carpenter Farm, near the Wilderness Battlefield. Only one grave marker appears to bear a name, that of Sgt. Richard Ross of the 40th New York Infantry. All images are clickable for greater detail.
     The 40th New York was in the 3rd Division of the 2nd Corps, Army of the Potomac. Utilizing a hand-drawn map of the 2nd Corps hospital site, supplied by NPS Historian Don Pfanz, and assumed to be from the National Archives collection, your blog host was able to place the vicinity of the four divisions on the modern landscape. After studying the topographic features in the area of the 3rd Division, I was able to find the burial location photographed in 1866, still looking very much as it did then. The bodies had been removed prior to 1876 and reinterred in Fredericksburg on Willis Hill, in the National Cemetery. The hospital site is now the home of the Spotsylvania chapter of the Izaak Walton League. 
     In November of 2010, NPS Historian John Hennessy wrote a blog feature on Mysteries and Conundrums, which examined the original photograph. In a comment I submitted to that post, I speculated that the burial site would probably be in the range of 75 yards from the road. The location turned out to be about 112 yards from the main road, but alongside what appeared to be a slight road cut within the property. 
                               Aerial map of the former Carpenter Farm on Herndon Road, near
the Wilderness battlefield, approximately two miles northeast from where
 the 40th was engaged and Sgt. Ross would have been wounded.
I have indicated the area where each division treated their wounded, as
 well as the burial area for the 3rd Division, in the upper right, marked "graves".
Note: This land is PRIVATE PROPERTY, do not trespass.
Seen above is a document from the widow's petition for pension filed by Eliza Ross,
 October 14, 1864. She would receive eight dollars per month. Ross also left
 behind a daughter, Catherine, not yet two years old when her father fell.
The detail above is from the previous document.

The Ross residence, at 36 Pitt St., in New York City, was likely cleared away for construction
 of the Williamsburg Bridge, begun in 1896. The area today, as seen below at the corner of
 Delancey Street South, retains no resemblance to its 19th century appearance.

A close-up detail of the original marker for Sgt. Richard Ross.
Your blog host recently visited the Fredericksburg National Cemetery
 to pay respects at the relocated grave of Sgt. Richard Ross, number 3994.

ROSS, RICHARD. Age 30 years at enlistment. Enlisted in Brooklyn, and mustered in on Oct. 24, 1861, as a Private in Co. H, 87th N. Y. Inf. Transferred, Sept. 6, 1862, to Co. K, 40th N. Y., the Mozart Regiment. Captured on May 2, 1863, at Chancellorsville, and paroled Oct. 9, 1863. Promoted to Sergeant in Co. C, upon re-enlistment as a veteran, Dec. 29, 1863. Wounded in action, May 5, 1864 in the Wilderness, and died of wounds at the Carpenter Farm Hospital site, May 9, 1864. Buried initially on the hospital site and eventually reinterred in the National Cemetery at Fredericksburg, Va.

     The vicinity of the fighting where Sgt. Ross was likely wounded, south of the Orange Plank Road.
 The view looks southwest from the Union position, toward the advance of McGowan's South
 Carolinians, followed, to the viewer's left, by Scales' North Carolinians. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Gettysburg's "Harvest of Death" correction to post of 2-18-12

Notice: Be sure to go back to the post of a few days previous by clicking here. Incorrect material had been added by your blog host in a premature effort to fill in some blanks. As I point out within the correction, "Haste makes waste."

Many thanks to my friends and loyal readers for keeping me on track. It was a close call.

Stay vigilant!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Worth A Thousand Words - An Image of Development

This simple stone marker was placed in 1903 by former Confederate staff officer James Power Smith. It marks the location of famed Major John Pelham's daring action, with a single cannon, against advancing Federal forces during the battle of Fredericksburg. The stone once stood more directly placed, along the road, facing the other direction, until moved further into this corner lot due to development pressures. Seen across the intersection is the ground over which the Federal advance came, as well as the challenging fire of over two dozen Union cannon. Pelham and his gun crew held this position for over an hour before finally withdrawing when ammunition was running out.

The portrait of John Pelham at right was taken when he was 16. He was barely three months into his 24th year during the battle of Fredericksburg. Three months later he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Kelly's Ford, Virginia, on March 17, 1863. His body was returned to his home state of Alabama and is buried in the Jacksonville City Cemetery.

Click map to enlarge for greater detail.
The aerial map above shows the Pelham marker site (bottom right) as it sits today among residential and commercial development. The red line indicates the direction of fire from Pelham's cannon as the Union advance of thousands of infantry swept toward the Old Richmond Stage Road, modern day Tidewater Trail, Route 2. Union artillery, situated near the large, white roofed building, returned fire, unable to dislodge the Confederate nuisance. The one acre strip of land running southwest of the marker has been preserved by the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust since 2007. As of this writing, the larger commercial building below the marker sits vacant, the victim of direct competition from rival businesses across the street, directly in the line of Pelham's fire.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Spotsylvania's 23rd USCTs Making the Rounds During Black History Month

The reorganized 23rd United States Colored Troops have had a full schedule thus far during the 2012 Black History Month. Last Saturday, members turned out to present a program at the Germanna Community College, which featured the 23rd's very own Lt. Jimmy Price, speaking on the Battle of New Market Heights. Afterwards, members toured the remains of Confederate entrenchments on the grounds of the College. These works had been featured in a blog post here, on July 11, 2010.

Atop the former Confederate defensive works at Germanna Ford.
From left to right, Regimental Chaplain Hashmel Turner,
 Corporal Steward Henderson, Captain John Cummings,
 and Medical Steward Kevin Williams.

The 23rd's "Abolitionist Senator", James Anderson,
and special guest speaker, Denise Benedetto.

Corporal Henderson answers questions for a reporter on Sunday,
February 12, before a service and presentation on the history of
the 23rd USCTs, at the Bethel Baptist Church near Culpeper, Virginia.
The 23rd's Chaplain, Reverend Hashmel Turner, gave the day's sermon.

You are invited to a CONVERSATION,
Saturday, Feb 25, 2012, at 12 noon.

“Bridging the Chasm: A Public Conversation about Freedom,
 the Civil War, and its Complicated Legacy”

Our Guest Speaker: John Hennessy, Chief Historian
 of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park
hosted by the
John J. Wright Museum, and the 23rd Regiment United States Colored Troops

7565 Courthouse Rd, Spotsylvania, VA 22551-2706

This event is one of several in the 2012, 23rd Regiment U. S. Colored Troops Lecture Series. It is free and open to the public, and supported in part by a grant from Spotsylvania County Government.
For more information, call (540) 582-7583, ext 5545 or on the web at
We hope to see you there.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign. Spotsylvania Park Border Signs. A Photo Essay.

Confederate trench, running directly along a southern boundary, below Landrum Ridge.
Notice: Neighboring property is heavily posted at right.

A type of sign-eating tree.

An old, metal boundary marker on a now dead tree.

The neighbors are serious. Read the hand written notation.

Another border marker on a soon to collapse, dead tree.

Yet another sign-eating tree.

They start young back in these woods.

Your blog host, standing on a southeast boundary corner.

An interesting pile in front of the tree at right distance...

Discarded or abused?

A sign once hung here.

Boundary and detailed notice signs share a tree along an eastern border.
Heed the warning! You will be prosecuted.
IT IS UNLAWFUL TO - injure, excavate, or appropriate any historic or prehistoric ruin, monument, object of antiquity or of scientific interest without specific authority by the Secretary of the Interior.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Best Evidence? What do the Gettysburg Harvest of Death Images Show?


In the next few weeks I imagine, historians Garry Adelman and Tim Smith will be posting entries on the Gettysburg Daily blog, to examine and challenge numerous researcher's claims of finding the "Harvest of Death" photograph grouping, including my own, and that of National Park Service historian, Scott Hartwig. Garry has let it be known that he and Tim spent the past weekend at Gettysburg filming video segments for this presentation.

Since posting my own examinations, I have found that Scott Hartwig had not only presented his research on the Gettysburg Park's blog in May 2011, but also as an article in the October 2011 issue of Civil War Times Magazine. In the December 2011 issue of Civil War Times, Garry Adelman took Scott to task in a letter to the editor, and asserted that Mr. Hartwig's conclusion was "impossible". Interestingly, within Garry's dissection of Scott's presentation, he lays claim that the Thompson house "does not show up in wider versions of Alexander Gardner's view", something that my own, independent research, shows to be false. The Thompson house, "Lee's Headquarters", does very much appear, right where it should be, atop the ridge, at the upper right hand corner of the image. Faint, not in sharp focus, and apparently fog enshrouded, but nonetheless, there. Likewise, the companion Gardner image, looking to the southwest, is equally plagued by a lack of depth of field. Background elements of this image are blurred and essentially washed out in appearance. Regardless, this image as well, does contain some potential clues as to its location on the field.

Please click on any of the images on this blog for larger examination.
Note, along the horizon, the distant wood lines, as well as the barely
discernible, scattered trees in the field. Theoretically, the Hagerstown
 Road should be running left to right along that southern end of the field. 
The map below shows these elements as they appeared in 1868. 

Here, once again, as demonstrated in my prior posts, are horizon
elements that provide a surprisingly similar appearance to the Thompson
house, which has been a point of debate when discussing mine, and Scott
Hartwig's examinations of these images. The Brady photograph below,
from July 1863, taken within weeks of the Gardner/O'Sullivan images,
 shows a strikingly similar appearance to the distant objects captured above.
Hard to consider them coincidence, especially when added to all the other
items of consideration. Garry Adelman considers these similarities of terrain
as, something he has found to be "fairly common" at Gettysburg. I challenge
 that assertion. Yes, there are ridge lines, woodlines, and fences, but not
so coincidentally where they should be in both directions. Remove one
of these elements and there is room to talk. Additional field work is still
needed however. That will happen when the weather cooperates.

Brady's close-up photograph of the Thompson house. How odd
that everything appears to match if it is not the same structure.
One challenge to my theory is that the house appears to be white
instead of a darker stone evident in Brady's shot. It appears lighter,
I maintain, due to whatever atmospheric conditions, such as fog,
appear to make everything in the distance appear lighter and washed out.
There is a distinct lack of depth of field also at work. Further reading
regarding the "science" of this can be read at this link, here.

The full view of the right hand half of Gardner's stereo pair, which in
my theory, looks to the north, showing the wood line on Oak Ridge,
just beyond the unfinished rail cut, and Mrs. Thompson's house in the
upper right hand corner, above the orchard on the ascending slope.
The trees in the middle distance, running parallel with a rail fence line,
also appear in the "Warren" map. Just a coincidence? See below.
Fence line with parallel trees at center, orchard on slope to right,
with the Thompson house just beyond on the Chambersburg Pike.
Everything all added up, places the Harvest of Death below that
fence with the parallel trees. The only remaining issue is to calculate
the exact camera position, its angle and height from the ground. One must
also factor in one hundred and fifty years of erosion, infill and other modifications
 to the bottom between McPherson's Ridge and Seminary Ridge, as it is clearly
 evident that time has taken a toll with the effects of man and nature.
The map detail below, from the old Battlefield Park Commission,
demonstrates encroachment in the area, including a horsedrawn rail line,
and some unidentified feature that looks like a race track. It is
also quite probable that the middle ground was altered to allow
a feeder trench for pond features above and below the Hagerstown Road.

 Further research should reveal these mysteries,
but for now, the surrounding features, to the north and south,
appear to provide evidence that the dead seen in this grouping
are indeed lying in the "Field Where Reynolds Fell", as captioned
by Gardner. There is no concrete evidence to preclude Gardner
was not on the first day's battlefield, merely conjecture, dating back
to the publication of William Frassanito's, Gettysburg: A Journey in Time.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

New Year - Old Sites: Juxtaposition - Chancellorsville

The Chancellorsville intersection, circa 1900. Photo by John Okie.
Hunting dogs of Thomas P. Payne, a Spotsylvania County deputy
 commissioner of revenue. Image is courtesy of Kathleen Colvin,
Payne's granddaughter. View looks north along the Old Plank Road.

The Chancellorsville intersection, January 1, 2012.

The top image was taken about thirty-seven years after the 1863 battle of Chancellorsville. Life had begun to assume a feeling of normalcy at this once hotly contested intersection. The Chancellor house, which had been destroyed during the fighting, was rebuilt, but would survive just another twenty-seven years until it would be, yet again, consumed by fire.

One hundred and twelve years have gone by since these dogs sniffed about the muddied road, always dutiful, always vigilant. Man's best friend. Tens of thousands of sunrises have crossed the landscape. Inside the house the day-to-day human dramas would unfold. Children would laugh and cry. Words were spoken in love and anger. Joy over births, and sorrow over deaths. The gamut of human emotions lived out within the walls, echoing in the hallways, until they were no more. Gnarled remnants of once great shade trees now sway in the winds. The surrounding fields that had provided generations of crops turned fallow and returned to grassland, yet no cattle graze today.

An eerie silence hangs in the air. The ghosts of over three thousand soldiers, killed near here, bide their time in eternity.