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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sesquicentennial New Year Approaches : 1864-2014, Fredericksburg, VA

    Tuesday, May 20 , 2014, will mark the 150th anniversary of the day photographer James Gardner took the image inspiring the "then and now" mashup below. Gardner's original caption for this view indicated the banner draped building, now extensively modified, served, along with its then adjoining twin, as the "Store-rooms of the U.S. Sanitary Commission." Fredericksburg residents will recognize the location today as the busy 300 block of William Street, home to numerous restaurants, offices, and specialty shops. In May 1864, much of the town served as hospital space to the Union Army which was hotly contesting Confederate forces to the west of town, in the Spotsylvania County countryside. The Sanitary Commission maintained their facilities in town as a relief agency for the sick and wounded. Click any of the images for larger inspection. The original Gardner image is in the collection of the Library of Congress.

     Earlier in the year, I posted additional mashup images related to the Sanitary Commission operations at the intersection of William and Charles Streets. 

Wishing all my readers a happy and prosperous New Year.

See you in 2014!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

MERRY CHRISTMAS from Spotsylvania Civil War Blog

Wishing all the joys of the season to my readers.
Merry Christmas, one and all.

Photo copyright 2009 by John F. Cummings III

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Gallant Pelham Remembered - December 13, 2013

     On the one hundred and fifty-first anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg, the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust dedicated a replica Napoleon 12-pounder at the site of Confederate Major John Pelham's fabled stand against the Federal advance during the early, fog-enshrouded morning of December 13, 1862. Pelham's guns boldly delayed that advance for several hours, buying critical time for the bolstering of the southern defensive position along Prospect Hill.  Click any image for larger viewing. A previous post regarding Pelham's position can be found here.

 The ceremony commenced shortly after 11:00 AM along the preserved acre in front of Family Dollar.
 Dr. Michael P. Stevens, president of the CVBT, commanded the ceremony.
     The gun crew from the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park wheels their piece into position for a commemorative round.

 The proud gun crew from F&SNMP listen to the presentation after their opening salute.
 Park historian Frank O'Reilly provided the background of Pelham's bold actions.
O'Reilly is the author of one of the best volumes on the Fredericksburg Campaign.
 The new, silent sentinel, guards the intersection at 10744 Tidewater Trail, Fredericksburg, VA. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Gettysburg's Battlefield Hotel - An interesting view, circa 1870

     I'm not saying I "discovered" this image, since it is in the collection of the Library of Congress, but I only happened upon it while browsing the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog the other day. Perhaps it has gone unnoticed till now. I have no idea, but I have not seen other published references. There is nothing in the catalog listing that specifically says "Gettysburg" that I can see, but it is quite clearly the structure that occupied the intersection of Baltimore Street and Emmitsburg Road, and was called the Wagon Hotel in 1863. It is well known to have been occupied by Union sharpshooters during the battle, and was promoted as such by the sign on the corner post at the stairs. The second floor windows are later additions to the southeast wall of the building as well as the extended porch which may have served as a loading dock, serviced by the side door which was a window in 1863. A northward view of this building, taken in 1865, is available for comparison on pages 96, 97 of William Frassanito's Gettysburg - A Journey In Time, published in 1975. Renamed the Battlefield Hotel to capitalize on its historic value with tourists, the original structure was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1895. Click on this and any of the other images for larger viewing.
The left half of the stereoview, seen in its entirety below.

No photographer's identification is apparent either on the front,
or the back of the card, seen below.

     Below is a view taken some years later (note the growth on the trees in front), from the GNMP's files according to Michael Waricher who posted it on his facebook page, Michael Waricher Battlefield Perspectives
     Below is a view of the same intersection as it appeared around 1948, also posted by Waricher, and assumed to come from the same Park files. This building was destroyed in 1949 and today the site of a convenience store and gas station, the Gateway Minimart, at 517 Baltimore Street. Emmitsburg Road, branching off to the right in these southward views, is known as Steinwehr Avenue today.
     Below, a variation of the previously mentioned photo examined by William Frassanito, and borrowed here for educational purposes, from an uncredited source posted in the website: Gettysburg Daily, in 2008. It is assumed to be from the same 1865 exposures attributed to Gardner, and is further discussed by Frassanito in his book, Early Photography at Gettysburg, published in 1995. The wartime structure is the dark brick building, seen on the left side of the image. The view is looking northward from Baltimore Street. Note as discussed previously, the absence of the second floor windows, and the first floor window that apparently was converted into a door for the later built side porch/loading dock.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gettysburg Address - Contrasts - 150 year anniversary challenge

     Leading up to the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, which was this past Tuesday; documentary filmmaker Ken Burns laid out a challenge, of sorts, to today's notables and the public at large, to learn the words, and meaning, behind Lincoln's near two minute remarks. Lincoln received five spontaneous bursts of applause from the audience which brought his total presentation to under three minutes. When he finished, some say, there was an uncomfortable silence before it was realised he had concluded, and then there was a "long continued applause". In the long run, Lincoln's ten sentences have eclipsed the two hour presentation of the keynote speaker that day, orator Edward Everett, becoming one of America's iconic documents.
     Growing up in the 1960's, my first exposure to the printed words of the Gettysburg Address came from the back of Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, in an appendix section demonstrating printer proof marks. The challenge to memorize them was instilled early on by my father who, as a Lincoln buff, naturally took pride in reciting them aloud. It became a thing we'd do together. Unscheduled, always, but something nonetheless that we'd enjoy, and will still do to this day. So when I saw a flood of YouTube videos being posted recently as a result of the Ken Burns challenge, I took notice, but hesitated in watching them, as I was interested in recording my own and did not want an external influence to alter how I have come to know it. Thus, on the 19th, I recorded my first take from my home computer, and posted it to YouTube, my first venture into that medium. From there it went to my facebook page. I found that what I had recorded was a mashup of the five "official" manuscript versions in Lincoln's handwriting. My most notable "variation" seemed to be the omission of "under God", which apparently was not in his original copy, but ended up being added on the fly that day, since the Associated Press, on-site version that made it to the newspapers of the period contained it. Because of that, I re-recorded it the next day, also wearing a collared shirt instead of my first take's t-shirt casualness.
     Today I began to watch some of the Burns PBS videos and found Jerry Seinfeld with Louis CK struggling to get it together. Seinfeld seemed to be playing the straight man. I don't know if CK truly has an appreciation for what he's learning. He never seems to come across as genuine. But perhaps that's the intent. Still, either way, I found no humor in it.

     Here are the two videos, starting with the PBS bit with Seinfeld and Louis CK, and then mine. Contrasts for sure.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Manassas National Battlefield Park, October 31, 2013

     A visit to Northern Virginia allowed for some time spent yesterday along the Bull Run and surrounding battlefield. Pleasant, mid-fall temperatures made the journey comfortable, and the thinning foliage cleared some other times difficult views. Slightly overcast skies provided soft lighting, unburdened by strong shadows. A colorful, and reflective day upon the landscape of history. 
     All images can be clicked for larger viewing.

 All photographs copyright 2013 by John F. Cummings III

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Yorktown Images Pose Questions, Reveal Details

     This past weekend, the Center for Civil War Photography held their annual conference/seminar down on the Virginia Peninsula. Rainy weather and National Park Service closures put a damper on the program but only to a limited extent, said CCWP vice president, Garry Adelman. Your blog host enjoyed the CCWP annual events in 2004 and 2005, but has had scheduling conflicts regularly since then. This year's event would have been particularly enjoyable for me since I have earlier this year begun a more thorough examination of period images taken in and around Yorktown, Virginia. I have family living in the vicinity and this has provided good reason to spend extended visits to the sites. A previous post, found at this link, came out of my first trip to Yorktown in April. It is an intriguing place, made doubly so by the overlapping use of the battlefield and town by Revolutionary War and Civil War engagements. 
     One group of photographs, taken by James F. Gibson in May 1862, depicts the area surrounding General Fitz John Porter's headquarters at or near the "Allen Farm House" the supposed location of French general, Lafayette's headquarters, prior to the Siege of Yorktown eighty-one years before. Based on maps of both eras, the location of the Allen House sits southeast of the town of Yorktown, nestled alongside the fingers of Wormley Creek, now the subdivision of "Marlbank Cove", on the south side of the York River.
     Garry Adelman of the CCWP has stated on Facebook that he has the location of this structure, "nailed down to the square yard and will assemble all and publish soon." I certainly look forward to that information. It's always a rush  to put a photo mystery to rest.
     Intrigued as I have been by these images, I reexamined the files of the Library of Congress photograph collection and continued to hunt for more details. The first view below, taken from the original stereo pairs, shows the Allen House and " Headquarters of Gen'l Porter, Farnhold's House and York River in the distance", according to the caption written on the glass negative's sleeve. If this is accurate, the "Farenholdt" (correct spelling based on period maps) House is barely discernable on the left middle horizon. This is all very well and good, and possibly true, but interestingly, another image by Gibson clearly depicts the same location, but with the camera turned to the right, perhaps 45 or 50 degrees, and mounted on an elevation, with a downward, broader view of the sprawling camp in the fields beyond. The odd thing about this view is that the caption  from its negative's sleeve states it shows, "Hdq. Gen. McClellan Camp Winfield Scott, in front of Yorktown, May 7, 1862." Based on the period maps, the two general's headquarters were approximately a quarter of a mile apart, not a simple step to the right. Perhaps an oversight or confusion on the part of Gibson or whoever wrote the sleeve caption. It is known to happen. It does apparently firm up the date it was taken. The result either way provides a panoramic view of the landscape beyond this structure said to be Allen's House in two other views. Within both images are a few interesting details which we will examine here shortly. I have taken the left and right sides of the two stereo exposures and created an expanded view for each, revealing edges that aren't fully depicted together, in either side alone. These are the complete pictures now shown below.  Click any image for larger viewing. 

Below, I have placed both exposures side by side to demonstrate the broader view they provide combined.      Do remember however, the right image is not simply turned, but also elevated, thus the horizon line and foreground can not be married together cleanly. There are some uniting elements that do link them indisputably though, the four board fence, one or two seemingly fresh graves, and one distant tent.

Below are some enlarged details extracted from from the two.
Note the draped fence, and the freshly turned, marked grave at center, seen from the left hand view.
 Also make note of the distant wall tent. This is what I will call the anchor tent, linking the images.
Now, the right hand view of the draped fence and grave. Note the anchoring wall tent at upper left.
An even closer shot of the fence corner and grave.

The right view reveals perhaps a second grave, or a head maker as well as a foot marker.
This view also supplies an additional detail, leaning against the fence...

...that appears to be a stretched canvas. Is this a painting "liberated" from the home of a secessionist?
     One wonders if it survived and hangs on someone's wall today? That mystery may never be solved.
     Something else to note from the larger full view, are the seeming piles of brush or deliberate planting running just behind the first row of tents in the middleground. Whatever their intended purpose, photographer Gibson utilized at least one in the photograph below as a backdrop for Brigadier General Randolph B. Marcy and fellow officers. Marcy was serving as chief of staff to son-in-law George B. McClellan during this time.
     One more detail, since I mentioned it at the beginning, is what I believe is the distant Farenholdt House, seen on the horizon of the left image of the united pair, as well as a full view of the said residence, also taken by Gibson. I have indicated the Farenholdt House in the detail with the letter "F" placed just above it. Again, click these images for larger viewing. Note the suggestion of the observation platform in the distant detail, compared to the full view of the house. It certainly looks right to me.
The cluster of signalmen is discernible between the two chimneys.
     If we can determine the orientation of the original structure (apparently no longer standing), we can best position the line of sight for the "Allen House" structure. ADDITION - The Farenholdt House is still standing! Very happy to figure this out. I have added a modern view after the 1862 view below. Realize, this is PRIVATE PROPERTY, so please respect owner's privacy.

"Farnhold's House, with part of Federal Battery, No I. In the distance. May 1862."
as indicated on the original negative sleeve in the Library of Congress collection.

This is the best view I can provide at this time, taken from the Google Earth Streetview. 

I will be returning to Yorktown in early November. Perhaps I will be able to do some further investigations.
I hope so.

Monday, October 14, 2013

General Beauregard's Headquarters at Liberia House, Manassas: Then and Now

     The Federal-style brick home of the Weir family was built in 1825, and originally sat on a 1,600 acre estate. Today, the grounds surrounding it have been reduced to a scant 18 acres, preserved by the City of Manassas. The home gets its name "Liberia" from the family's sympathetic membership in the American Colonization Society, a group that sought to send freed slaves to the then newly established country of Liberia, in Africa. Ironically, by 1860, the Weir family owned more than eighty slaves to run their farm.
Click the following images for larger viewing.

Photo by George N. Barnard, March 1862, during Union occupation,
 seen from the original "coach circle". Notice the kitchen wing at right.

August 24, 2013
Detail from the Barnard photograph, March 1862. Union soldiers are
 gathered on the porch. General Irvin McDowell made his headquarters
 at Liberia in May 1862. The next month, President Lincoln and Secretary
 of War Stanton visited the general there. General Daniel E. Sickles was
 also temporarily headquartered here in November 1862.

August 24, 2013. Your blog host established temporary headquarters
at Liberia during a living history encampment on the grounds.

This image is said to be the earliest photograph of Liberia, 
taken sometime in 1861, by Captain Andrew J. Russell.

Similar view, August 24, 2013

From 1888 to 1947, Liberia was owned by Robert Portner and was the headquarters
 of his dairy business, but not his personal residence. An interior view above, from 1936.
Historic American Building Survey

August 24, 2013

Central hallway, 1936, Portner Dairy Farm.
Historic American Building Survey

August 24, 2013
1936, Portner Dairy Farm. By this time the estate was 329 acres.
The home served as the residence of the dairy farm manager.
Historic American Building Survey

Similar view, August 24, 2013.
The house and property are now under management of the 
Manassas Museum System, after being donated by the Breedens, 
the last family to occupy the house as a personal residence.
It is currently under restoration.