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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Harvest of Death" Revisited - June 14, 2012

     After thirteen episodes on the website Gettysburg Daily, Garry Adelman and Tim Smith concluded their debunking of assorted theories as to the location of the series of images collectively now described as the "Harvest of Death", taken by the photographic team under Alexander Gardner's employ, specifically Timothy H. O'Sullivan and James F. Gibson. In the final episodes they focused attention on the work of Gettysburg National Park historian Scott Hartwig, and that of myself which was inspired by Hartwig's investigations, detailed on the Gettysburg Park's blog. My work has focused on the opinion that the home of Mrs. Thompson, otherwise known as "Lee's Headquarters", is visible in the upper right hand of O'Sullivan's exposures. This was advanced for the first time in my blog post dated January 12, 2012. My investigations have shown that the images were taken about 190 yards closer to the Chambersburg Road than Scott Hartwig had believed. Further considerations were made over time, also posted on this blog, and after several additional trips to the site, I have concluded what I can realistically produce with the evidence. It must be pointed out that Adelman and Smith focused on my initial investigations and, by the time of their May 10, 2012 posting of their on-site video journals, (filmed in February), they had stood on one that had been changed and corrected in posts during my then ongoing investigations. Furthermore, in Garry's Video #27, he suggests a wartime fence line, running roughly north to south from where he is standing, should have been visible, at least partially in the 1863 view. The only problem with Garry's suggestion is that the wartime fence he speaks of was actually one field further back from where he is. Other fences are a concern to Garry and Tim as well, including the one that would be running along the Chambersburg Road. Due to the issues with depth of field and sharpness of image, that fence, should it still be standing at the time of the images, even if just the posts, would be impossible to make out. Nothing in that background as small as single fence posts would be discernible. This brings to mind another complaint of theirs which is to point out that my theorized Thompson house appears to be too white to be the stone material it is built of. When viewed in the context of the "whiteout" effect of most of the background of this image, we know the trees along the distant ridge would be darker, but they are "bleached out", so to speak, just as the darker stone of the Thompson house is. And, still examining the Thompson house, my assertion that the broad surface of the white picket fence to the left of the structure is visible was challenged. All I can say, and with support of an image taken days later by Matthew Brady, the picket fence was still standing, and due to its broad surface area, would stand out clearly, a simple matter of contrast next to darker surfaces. This whiteout effect takes its toll on the image looking to the south as well. The Brady image of Mrs. Thompson's house is included further down in this post.
     As of this posting I have determined, as best as the current condition of the ground allows one hundred and forty-nine years later, a comfortable approximate location for the series to have been taken, still within the confines of the field identified by Gardner as the one "where Reynolds fell", between McPherson's and Seminary ridges. Click any image to enlarge for better viewing.
The O'Sullivan photograph, said to be taken on the first day's field.

Approximate same view today. Taken October 6, 2012
The companion image titled "Harvest of Death", showing the same bodies
 as the previous image but from the opposite direction, nearly due south.

The approximate same view today. Taken October 6, 2012.
An enlarged and enhanced detail from the O'Sullivan image, of
 the ridge rising toward Chambersburg Road and the Thompson
 House at far right. Garry states this is "far from convincing." Really? 
The Thompson House as photographed by Matthew Brady.
Note the large tree to the right and the white picket fence to
the left. Also, note the arbor at center is heavy with foliage.
The image below is annotated to point out these
features within the earlier O'Sullivan photograph.

Above, the Tate, Sheads, and Dustman houses, are seen from right, closest to furthest
 in this photograph by Frederick Gutekunst, taken from west of intersection with Springs
 Avenue, looking up the Chambersburg Road, toward the railroad cut at left of
center. The Thompson house is obscured in the view by trees on the rise at
 far left, along the north side of  the Chambersburg Road. Photo courtesy GNMP.

Your blog host, and National Park Service historian Scott Hartwig at right,
 met to further discuss the series of images during the June 14th investigation.
James Gibson's exposure showing Union burial crew, and
in the middle distance the location of Confederate burials.
 Enlarged area of Gibson image, where Confederate grave markers are visible.
They are the short, white strokes just above the fence remnant. They are even
more clearly discernible when viewed in the original stereo format.
Here, highlighted for clarity, are the positions of a portion of the grave markers.
See my post regarding a similar line of crudely marked graves at Chancellorsville,

Here is a detail section of the 1874 Warren map showing the surrounding
 area, including fences, trees, and orchards, based on 1863 information.

     I will conclude here in stating that I consider both Garry and Tim my friends, as they say of me in their postings. This debate is not one of anger, it is differences of opinion and an exercise in learning. I anticipate their reply, and again extend a desire to sometime walk the ground in question with them, in greater depth.

1 comment:

HankC said...


You’ve covered many bases – a great one being what the photos *do not* show due to the masking as well as what they *do* show.

Photographic historians take note. What you see is not necessarily what you get…