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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.


Unknown said...

Nicely done, John! Thanks for the post. I was on the CCWP seminar this past weekend and it did not disappoint. Garry is right in saying he has pinpointed the location. No spoilers here...Garry will publish his details soon.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Yorktown and many historians have done this research before. I implore you to seek out area historians so you are not reinventing the wheel. Many of the houses are gone now, except the Moore House obviously. Several of the batteries are now underwater (i.e. the mortar batteries on Wormley) and some of the locations of the photographs are on the Coast Guard installation. Best wishes!

John Cummings said...

Barry, From what I have seen in a sneak peek, Garry Adelman has truly located the "Allen" House site. No spoilers here as well. Garry's work corrects some mislabeling of images, and his scanning for hidden details has left that indisputable. Major mystery solved. Looking forward to his published results.

John Cummings said...

Would the Anonymous commenter from Yorktown please contact me via email? It would be much appreciated. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

So fascinating. I think this home might of been owned by one of my ancestors. Does anyone know the complete name and possibly date of birth and death of the owners of the Allen house at the time?

John Cummings said...

The "Allen" House was, in 1862, an outbuilding for the larger "Clark", or "Clarke" House. Garry Adelman of the Center for Civil War photography has promised future revelations regarding the structures. The one thing he did establish, and publicize already, is that the "Allen" House was oriented to the southeast rear of Clarke, as a kitchen dependency. Garry promises considerable information on this series of images. If the smaller structure did indeed serve as headquarters for Lafayette in 1781 is, by some indications, up for debate.