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Friday, October 12, 2012

Gettysburg's Harvest of Death - The Conclusion

     Next month will mark the one year anniversary since I first began posting my findings regarding the most elusive of photographs taken at Gettysburg. In May of 2011, Scott Hartwig, the supervisory historian with the Gettysburg National Military Park, first brought public attention to this location on the Park's Blog. Personally, I was impressed with his presentation and in-depth research. Scott focused on one of two images looking north east, the "Gibson" stereo view. Curious, I looked at the somewhat broader view taken by Timothy O'Sullivan, and immediately made note that it revealed, in the upper right corner, the Thompson House, known also more famously as "Lee's Headquarters." That November, I took a trip to Gettysburg for the Remembrance Day Commemoration, and set aside some time to visit Scott's site and provide additional support by photographing a modern view that included the house. I quickly saw that Scott's camera location was simply too far away to be precise to the 1863 images, however, he was certainly looking at the correct overall features. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Garry Adelman had challenged Scott's findings that had been published in the October 2011 issue of Civil War Times Magazine. Adelman's challenge appeared as a letter to the editor in the same magazine's December issue, and declared the location "unsolved" and still open for discovery.
     Upon returning home with my findings in November, I began what would be my first of a series of posts that sought to add further support to the work of Scott Hartwig. My assertion that the Thompson House was visible, and thus supported Scott's work, was quickly shot down by Mr. Adelman, and a form letter of sorts made its way around Civil War web addresses, titled
     This began my debate with Garry that eventually inspired his creating a thirteen episode presentation on the Gettysburg Daily Blog, wherein Garry and his associate Tim Smith took to task numerous people's theories as to the now notorious "Harvest of Death" location. The series wrapped up with several installments devoted to refuting Mr. Hartwig's and my examinations. I continued my research, looking further into details the images held, and all the while, with admitted misturns along the way, I made continued posts to this blog site, adding details that added up to supporting the location as the actual site. My one problem though continued to be the distance that I live from Gettysburg, requiring at least six hours of travel time in a day for each visit and no luxury of affording overnight accommodations. Thus I would bring my work home each time and see how the day's efforts fit. Gradually, over several return visits, I made my way along the landscape and arrived at the location that brought all the pieces together, although it is approximately 123 yards west of my initial, heavy concentration of study. It is also, as I had detected, nearly 190 yards closer to the Chambersburg Road than Scott Hartwig's estimation. However, this is what it takes to fine tune something that has been plagued from the outset by 1863 images that are far from sharp in detail, but still full of revealing information.
     Thus I present what will rest as the final, and correct, installment of my blog posting regarding these photographs. The challenge of having to adjust by a foot or yard, left or right, up or down or tilted, and in any direction is unnecessary and unwelcome, as this posting presents the final clue that makes this the true location, on the battlefield of July 1, 1863, and provides the source of Alexander Gardner's inclusion of General John Reynolds in the title, "Field Where General Reynolds Fell". The monument to this incident stands at a short 100 yards or so to the west of where these bodies had fallen. 
     The final clue rests in the wooded horizon line in both O'Sullivan's and Gibson's images: 
"The Field Where General Reynolds Fell", from O'Sullivan's stereo negative, similar
 to the full plate version that appears in the 1866, Photographic Sketch Book of the War.
The camera is looking at approximately 64 degrees NE on center. The Thompson House
is at upper right. The Chambersburg Pike runs, barely perceptible, along the center of the rise. 

 The approximate same view today, looking roughly 64 degrees North East.
Note the clearer line of the Chambersburg Road and the Thompson House.
 Also, a strip of trees obscures the southern edge of the rail cut, along with
 a motel, blunting the visible edge of the 1863 views.
Aerial map placing approximate location of bodies, and field
of view for both camera directions. Other features within the
north east direction of O'Sullivan's photograph are annotated.
One side of Gibson's stereo view with the Union burial crew.
Note the sliding scale effect created by the crew, illustrating how the
terrain beyond drops and rises toward the horizon line and woods.
Not attempted to stand on the precise location of the burial crew
members, nor the exact angle of Gibson's camera,  the digitally
 duplicated figure at center does demonstrate the "sliding scale"
 effect against the dropping and rising background, toward the rail cut today.
An enhanced section of Gibson's stereo view. Note the difference
in color of the rising slope (south side of cut), and the continuation
beyond on the north side of the cut. The darker, wood's edge beyond,
begins at roughly 297 ft from the south side of the cut, coming to a
corner and turning nearly due south at the right edge of this detail.
A further enlargement in gray scale, with annotations of the space.
 Click on this, and any image, for larger viewing
The yellow line, marked with the blue arrow at center, indicates
the approximate 297 ft opening that existed in 1863, from the south
 side of the rail cut, to the wood's edge. The land rises nearly fourteen
 feet inside that gap, creating the space we see above as a lighter gray band.
  This feature can not be found elsewhere on the battlefield.
Looking roughly 121 degrees south east from the rail cut crossover.
Note the gradual rise of the ridge to the left of the rail cut.  
 Looking roughly 306 degrees north west along the rail cut, behind
the Thompson house site, aka Lee's Headquarters.
"A Harvest of Death" from Gardner's Sketchbook. Same bodies, but viewed
  from the opposite side, and a 135 degree, clockwise turn to the south.

The approximate same view today, looking roughly 200 degrees South West. 
For questions regarding the horizon line, see this previous post on the subject.
A section of the 1895 "Cope" map showing the area around
Reynold's Woods and the Thompson House. I have placed a red
 X on the approximate location of the bodies for both 1863 images.
My thanks go out to my friend James Anderson for his assistance during my investigative trips.



John H. said...

Excellent article and post, John. Despite this location being downplayed by some experts on the subject, I have no doubt that the dead in this view are indeed those of the First Corps and the photos were taken in the field located by Scott and you. Thanks for posting your findings!

Anonymous said...


The choir is singing along with you. Eventually, others with pick-up the tune.

Doug Ripkey

Anonymous said...

Even an untrained eye can see that John is spot on correct. I hope that any naysayers out there will see the accuracy of this work. As this work will be a real benefit to us now and generations to come.
Thanks for all the hard work and uncovering the truth.

HankC said...

john, i think it's a mistake to correct your old posts.

seeing the original trail of evidence, analysis and correction is fascinating.

no need to erase old surmises as new evidence is revealed...

John Cummings said...


Thank you for your comment. I decided to correct the posts so as not to leave misleading information out there. The important thing in this format is having the location identified.

John Cummings

Martin H said...


Great detective work, and I agree with others that you seem to have identified the area the photograpsh were taken. There does seem to be a cetain circle of "experts" who want to be right rather than get to the botom of the mystery.

Keep the great posts comng.
Martin Husk

Unknown said...

Outstanding Post. I have visited GB many times (almost on a weekly basis) and agree with you and Scott. This is the spot. Although I don't know why he went there (the location). The terrain fits to a tee. Good job to both you and Scott! And great Blog! Brad

Unknown said...

One of the features in the photo you believe is looking towards the Thompson House is the pair of trees in the middle background. Interestingly, a similar pair of trees is depicted in Rothermel's painting "The Death of Reynolds" in approximately the same place. (I believe the link has the painting in reverse). I wonder if Rothermel's field sketches are still in existence?

Anonymous said...

JOHN, im really impressed with what youve done. I enjoy the "then" and "now" pics along with your research to find these spots from photos ive been looking at all my life. How lucky you are to live amongst these places and not have to drive 1300 miles to see them. I believe i read where your a tour guide. If so, i will be contacting you in may 2014 for spotsylvania, wilderness, and chancellorsville. Your site is really user friendly and set up well. keep up the good work. Russell, dallas tx

Anonymous said...

John, I have read your article with great detail and have to say you have definitely put in your research. I live about 30 minutes from Gettysburg and travel there numerous times a month. I have taken several photographs myself and also have ideas I would like to pick your brain with. is there any email I could reach you at that would make it easier to communicate?

John Cummings said...

There is an email address in the top right hand column of the blog.

Anonymous said...


Very nice work. With the evidence you provided, I believe you have found ths spot (within a few feet in this or that direction). I attended Civil War Institute last summer and in a not so pleasant tone was informed by the presenter of Civil War photography that this site will never be found. He disagreed with Hartwig's conclusions and would not reveal where he thought the image was taken. My question, I felt was brushed aside and this particular individual made me feel like how dare I question is expertise.

My question, since we all know whom I am referring to, have either one of them contacted you recently in regards to your final conclusions? What are their thoughts? I find it strange that there has not been a final rebuttal. You present very strong evidence that will be very difficult if not impossible to refute. From strictly a scientific way of thinking, your thought process leading to your conclusions is very sound.

As other above me have stated, I have no doubt that the dead in this image are those of the 1st Corps in the field that Scott Hartwig located.

Overall, I say what a tremendous job you have done researching this particular subject. Though you may never get official credit to your find, I believe you have done the Civil War community great credit.

Once again...Thank You

Rylance Lord, Pharmacist said...

My Great, great grandfather, Color Sergeant Lester B. Clark, Co. L, First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery Vols. was mortally wounded at Petersburg, June 16, 1864 while carrying the national colors in a charge against the Confederate Works. He died next day following amputation of his left leg - not regaining consciousness. That said, I have always been interested (and mystified) why public reference sources haven't given much attention to this in "popular culture". I have a copy of the 1916 History of the Regiment (Roe and Nutt) and, in it, there are no less than 4 vivid accounts of Clark's being wounded in the charge and his ultimate death. Yet, when I personally visited Petersburg Battlefield in 2000, they could find no reference to Sergeant Clark, OR his original interment.