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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.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Out-of-the-way History in Manassas Park, Virginia. "Yellow Hospital": Then and Now.

      Known as the Duncan House, or Bloom's Grove at the time of the Civil War, this stone structure was also dubbed "Yellow Hospital" due to a "yellow ocher" exterior paint in 1862, when it was photographed by Timothy O'Sullivan. At that time it was under Union occupation, serving as headquarters to the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry, as well as a hospital. The year before it is believed to have been the headquarters of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston. Today it is known as the Conner House, named for its last 20th century owner.
     The structure had nearly fallen to ruin by the 1970's, but was saved by the local Women's Club, recognizing the importance of its preservation. Now owned by the City of Manassas Park, restoration work will continue when funding permits. The house is surrounded now by offices of Prince William County Schools. The physical address is 8220 Conner Drive, Manassas, VA 20111, near Osbourn Park High School.
Click images for larger viewing.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Smithsonian Civil War - Inside the National Collection: Book Review

     Smithsonian Civil War is impressive from the beginning for its sheer weight and design. Beautifully crafted in a manner that reminded me of the early books published by American Heritage, such as Bruce Catton's two volume, Picture History of the Civil War, one of the highlights of my childhood that spawned a lifelong obsession with the period. Inside, the crispness of the images jumps out at the reader. After all, the images are what it's all about, the impressive national treasures that are displayed within. Great care was taken in photographing the pieces selected, displayed in 150 treatments, like chapters, sometimes with multiple items. This volume constitutes a virtual museum in a 368 page book.
     There is so much to absorb that selecting sample images for this review was a near impossible task. Solving that problem came about by randomly opening to a page and going with what it revealed. There could be no losers. Every item chosen is an outstanding relic of the era. In many ways this volume is also reminiscent of the Time/Life, Echoes of Glory set from 1991. But have no fear, the Smithsonian presentation is not a repetition of the same old stuff. Without a doubt, this book will provide hours of initial entertainment and years of continued reference. Any student of the American Civil War, be they novice or lifelong reader, will be delighted in receiving this unique record of the four years that defined us. I highly recommend putting it on Santa's list for any young history buff. This is the kind of work that makes an impression on a budding historian, and they will be so much more impressed by the physical nature of a hardcover book rather than the trendy ebooks out there. The accompanying text is well written and succinct, providing a non-overbearing explanation of the artifacts that will inspire further research, and that is the mark of any great effort such as this. The chronologic flow in presentation tells the story of the causes and ultimate effects of a national tragedy. The Smithsonian Editorial Committee has done a fantastic job in honoring the Sesquicentennial observance of the American Civil War.  

Author: Smithsonian Institution; Edited by Neil Kagan; Foreword by Jon MeachamISBN 13: 978-1-58834-389-5ISBN 10: 1588343898
Hardcover Price: $40.00

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Minor's Hill Signal Tower - Suggested Then and Now

     Notice: The correct location of this house has been found.

     A follow-up on the date, and location of General McClellan's visit with General Morell on Minor's Hill. According to D. Mark Katz's, Witness To An Era, The Life and Photography of Alexander Gardner, the group portrait of the General-in-Chief and accompanying officers, was copyrighted by Matthew Brady on January 6, 1862. This makes the date the image was made somewhere in the area of three months earlier than initially suspected. Katz's information was derived from the United States Copyright Book, 1861-1868, achieved in the Library of Congress. As for the precise location of the tower, I have still not had time to put boots on the ground, but based on USGS topographic maps, this is the physical summit of Minor's Hill. Logic would put the tower on or near the modern house at center of the following image from Google Earth. A detailed search of land records may provide a plat detailing the position of structures on the original layout of the property. Compare the long shot with the full view of the tower, and this looks promising. Updated research shows location to be around 430 yards from the suggested location seen here. Go to the July 24, 2016 posting for correct location. For all intents and purposes, this is the neighborhood today. Previous posts here and here.
     From this position, Confederate activities could be observed to the west and slightly southwest around Fairfax, roughly 9 miles away, Centreville at 15 miles and Manassas at 21 miles.

The above suggested location was proven incorrect in July 2016
 by blog reader Stephen Masters.
The correct site is around 430 yards to the slight northwest of this intersection.