Before reading any further, if you are a novice to the photographs of Civil War dead at Gettysburg, and you have a delicate constitution, and/or get squeamish at the sight of mutilated bodies, you may not want to read further. So be WARNED, there will be, following this block of text, some vivid imagery, all very real and recorded within a few days after the conclusion of the battle in July 1863.
Photographer Alexander Gardner made his way onto the field with his crew of assistant photographers with the intent of recording the horror of what transpired there, just as he did the previous September when he photographed the dead of the battle of Antietam, Maryland. Beyond this brief introduction, I have no purpose with this post to go into greater detail of the well researched and documented story behind the images taken. My purpose here will be to illustrate one small aspect of the series created that day, and that is the issue of the "prop" rifle that is seen in a number of the scenes taken along the south end of the battlefield. I believe it is clear that the photographers used only one weapon along this journey, toting it about from subject to subject, for about the extent of roughly a half mile before discarding it in all likelihood. Small arms had been collected from the field by the Union Army prior to, or along with the burial crews that cleaned up the battlefield. Something the local citizenry was appreciative of.
Here, I will make a hypothesis, that once found, on or near the Rose Farm, this rifle was a visual prop that Gardner would exploit to add a bit more drama to the dead who had otherwise been stripped of most military equipment.
It is my theory, and I suppose I am not the first to suggest it, that Gardner moved south from the series taken on the Trostle Farm and arrived on the Rose Farm, finding a large number of Confederate dead who had been assembled in burial formations. The Rose Farm images are thoroughly documented by William A. Frassanito in his famous book, Gettysburg: A Journey In Time, published in 1975, and expanded upon in the follow up work, Early Photography at Gettysburg in 1995. In consideration of the locations of these images, discovered by Frassanito, I might suggest that the first or one of the earliest on that site was a lone soldier horribly mutilated, either by an artillery shell or as some suggest, post mortem by wild hogs. I will not venture any speculation on that issue here, but what I am interested in is that this is the only (that I recall) view taken on the Rose Farm that shows an obviously placed prop gun. In the image the underside of the wood stock is visible, and only the muzzle end of the barrel can be seen, badly rusted, with a bayonet incorrectly attached on the end. The locking mechanism of the bayonet has not been engaged on the front sight of the barrel. The bayonet is not seen in any of the later images from that day. Again, this is also the only time that the rifle is seen on the Rose Farm series, I would think, because this was the only body presentable that was not pulled into a burial formation. It was the only view where one could suggest that the body was in situ, as he fell from the ghastly wound. WARNING, I am about to show this image, and it is very graphic. I have also turned the image upside down so as to make the rifle easier to view and appreciate within the context of the other images I will show, most of which, it can be easily seen are utilizing the same rifle.
A, in the upper left. From there it is quite possible that Gardner's crew swept south, around the large, wooded area, and then east to arrive at the Triangular Field where the next body was located about where I have marked B. Continuing east, then south around the boulders of the Devil's Den area, finding the next bodies below and along Plum Run, marked, E and F. From A to F we are looking at a distance of around 3/4 of a mile.