Battlefield Guide Services

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.


Clark Buckner said...

Just curious as to why Tim and Garry waited until now to do the debunking. There has been a lot of conjecturing about this location through the years.It isn't like this is new.

John Cummings said...

Apparently Scott Hartwig's material initially set off the debunkings, last May. Garry responded to that in the December issue of Civil War Times magazine. On January 12, when I began posting my material that pointed out what I believe is the Thompson house, and the vital clue that would resolve the mystery, Garry was quick to caution me that more needed to be considered before calling the issue "solved." Since then I have been trying to pull all my ducks in a row and feel more comfortable with my conclusions, but will need more field work to smooth rough edges out. At this point we should just sit back and wait for their material. We shall see.
John Cummings