Battlefield Guide Services

Friday, March 21, 2014

Grant's Army, Crossing the Rapidan - Then and Now

     Yesterday was the first day of spring for 2014, and very soon we will be within the 150th anniversary of the Spring Campaign of 1864, what would become the Overland Campaign in Virginia. The winter encampments of the two armies were bustling with activity and anticipation of what the fourth year of war would bring. On May 5th they would clash in the Wilderness region of Orange and Spotsylvania Counties. With the Union armies under a new General-in-Chief since March 9, things would change dramatically, in the Eastern Theater especially. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant would bring a tenacity to the table, one that would demonstrate a commitment to end the war in short order. This would be the beginning of the last year of the conflict.
     In the predawn hours of May 4, the Federal 5th and 6th Corps began their way across two pontoon bridges at Germanna Ford, on the Rapidan River. Photographer Timothy O'Sullivan, an employee of Alexander Gardner, was perched on the Orange County side to record the movement, standing where a previously destroyed bridge had brought travelers across in a more peaceful time. The stone abutments of that bridge are visible at left of center. In post-war years other bridges would be built and replaced several times. Today's double span of State Route 3 was completed 1987, providing an interesting contrast to the two, temporary canvas pontoon bridges that spanned the space below them, a century and a half before.
     O'Sullivan created a triptych of sorts, forming a panoramic view. The video below focuses on the left most image of the three.

      Looking slightly northwest, Union supply wagons are seen along the horizon, moving toward the bridgehead, in O'Sullivan's image. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
January 18, 2009
 O'Sullivan's other two exposures, looking gradually more north and northeast.
 Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.

A similar view to O'Sullivan's northeast view, January 18, 2009.
Click any of the images for larger examination.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Advance Look at New Section of North Anna Battlefield Park - Official Opening May 24, 2014

     One of the most interesting Civil War landscapes in Virginia is, without a doubt, the North Anna Battlefield Park, in Hanover County. In the early 1990's, nearly 80 acres were set aside by a quarry company, containing most of the west face of General Lee's "Inverted V" trenchline, with its apex on a bluff overlooking Ox Ford. Here, just days after the culmination of the Spotsylvania Campaign, the Army of Northern Virginia had Grant and Meade's forces precariously straddling the North Anna, with three corps dangerously susceptible to piecemeal annihilation. Due to the ineptness of his lieutenants at the time, and suffering from a debilitating intestinal ailment, Lee was not able to take advantage of the situation and thus lost his last realistic opportunity for a southern victory in the war. 
     Now maintained by the Hanover County's Parks and Recreation Department, the park offers a finely interpreted trail system that follows along much of the old Ox Ford Road and sections of the Confederate trenches. With a grand opening on May 24, 2014, the new trails will cover ground north of the current park, following the advance and retreat routes of the hapless, Union General James H. Ledlie's 9th Corps Brigade, as well as an elaborate set of earthworks constructed by Samuel Crawford's Division of the 5th Corps. Your blog host took an advance look at the progress on March 11, 2014. 
     Looking northwest, down the first leg of the new path from current Stop 7. The little ravine and stream at center is where the 57th Massachusetts Infantry were pinned down prior to the push by the 12th Mississippi Infantry to sweep them from the field. Colonel Charles Chandler fell mortally wounded in this ravine, dying in Confederate hands later that evening. The Union forces began to fall back, up the slope seen in the distance.
     Looking  to the east, partway up the sloping retreat route of Ledlie's Brigade, back toward the section of ravine where the 56th Massachusetts were on the 57th's left flank. A new observation deck can be seen at left.
     Looking northeast, toward the construction of a massive bridge that will take visitors on an extensive trail system following 9th Corps advance and retreat routes, an observation point looking toward Fall's Mill, and a network of beautifully preserved entrenchments of Crawford's 5th Corps Division.
The new, 90 acre section, has more than doubled the total land now protected, up from 75 acres.
The trail leads to a nice view of the North Anna, looking toward the falls just north of Ox Ford.
Further upstream, on a high bluff, are the entrenched works of Crawford's Division of the 5th Corps.
Hanover County Parks and Rec. employees are busy blazing the new trail to have it ready for May.
     In early 1992, your blog host was a model for military artist, Donna Neary's work that became the official painting of the park, which was originally commissioned by the General Crushed Stone, the quarry company owning the land at the time. The four amigos are seen below, twenty-two years ago, the day all the reference photos were taken by Neary. Left to right are: John Cummings, Lee Trolan, Rick Hooker, and William Sumner. Trolan, Hooker and Sumner all went on to appear in the movie Gettysburg. Sumner played the distinctive role of the unnamed Confederate that kills General John Reynolds.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Petersburg Siege - A Look at Bollingbrook Street Battle Damage - Then and Now

     Shortly after the fall of Petersburg on April 2, 1865, a photographic record was created of the once posh residential neighborhood along Bollingbrook Street. The nine images I will examine here, are all linked to one home in particular, the "Dunlop House". The structure once sat in the southwest corner of the intersection of Bollingbrook and 4th Street. Virtually nothing remains today of this house or its surrounding structures. The Dunlop house was the primary element of an entire block, bordered on the east by 4th Street, the west by an alley that was an extension of Phoenix Street, that ran on the north side of Bollingbrook, and on the south side by Lombard Street, known today as East Bank Street. It had a finely appointed yard and garden with a pond, and numerous outbuildings. It appears the entire site was wiped clean in the early 1900's and became a warehouse facility. For this posting, I am going to utilize Google Earth for the "now" views, and will in the near future replace them with true, on-site photographs of my own taking, which will provide somewhat more accurate comparisons to the period images. For now, these will get the point across, and with relatively decent results. Click any image for larger inspection. All period images are from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
     One of the most graphic images, which I will number 1-10 as we reference them throughout this post, is an interior view, looking essentially east, out a badly damaged window. Brick and plaster debris covers the floor. Slightly visible outside the window, are neighboring structures, a brick, twin dwelling, and a frame house just beyond. Adjusting the contrast allows for a more detailed examination of those structure's porches.
Image # 1
Enlargement of Image #1 with contrast adjusted.
From Google Earth Street View, a similar view on 4th Street,
looking east, with Bollingbrook along the left. 
Image # 2, the Dunlop House, looking southwest from the 
intersection of Bollingbrook with 4th Street.
Image # 2, modern view from Google Earth. This building 
occupies the entire site of the Dunlop property.
A close-up detail of the shell damaged window and wall.
Above, a detail of Image # 3, seen in its entirety below. The east wall of the Dunlop House 
is at center, and the neighboring structures seen through the window in 
Image # 1, are seen with their porches, as noted previously. 
Full view of Image # 3, looking slightly southwest,
 toward the intersection of Bollingbrook and 5th Street.
     Then and now comparison of Image # 3, utilizing Google Earth Street View, with surprising accuracy. The green, overhead door on the warehouse, where the Dunlop House stood, can be seen between the trees at right of center. 

Image # 4, looking west along Bollingbrook. Shell damaged
 dwellings on the north side of the Street are opposite Dunlop's House.
Modern view of Image # 4, utilizing Google Earth Street View.
Image # 5, looking northeast from the west yard at the Dunlop House.
At left edge of the image is the same damaged structure seen in
Image # 4. Also note the brick-lined pond in left foreground.
Comparison details of the residence on the north side of Bollingbrook, from Images #'s 4 and 5.
Four distinct points are annotated with red letters, detailing architectural elements and shell damage. 
Image # 6, showing "Phoenix Hall" on the east side of Phoenix Street, taken from the side yard
 of the Dunlop House, looking north, and showing greater detail of the brick-lined pond feature.
Close-up of the arched doorways of Phoenix Hall. These arches are visible between
 the residential porch columns in Image # 4. See the detail below.
Detail from Image # 4. Click for larger inspection.
A similar, modern view of Image # 6, seen from the street.
There is a slight possibility that elements of Phoenix Hall still remain in this structure.
Image # 7, looking southeast toward the back corner of the Dunlop garden.
Outbuilding incorporated into a surrounding brick wall. Residential structures
are visible in the left and right background along the south side of Lombard,
now East Bank Street. None of these structures stands today.
Image # 8 provides what you will recognize as a close-up of the shattered 
front door of the Dunlop House, visible in Image # 2. View is looking south.
Modern view, to right,  achieved utilizing Google Earth Street View.

Image # 9 above, and # 10, seen below, have been identified in their period captions
and continuously by scholars today, as back yard views at the Dunlop House. Based on
the previous images, especially # 5 which shows a clearly different building than the one above,
I suspect that they may depict a neighboring structure. Further examination and archive research
should clear this up. I am looking to return to Petersburg in the next month or two for on-site study

Below is a detail from an 1891 Sanborn Map showing the area.
     The Dunlop site is at lower left, above Lombard, with the "L" shaped structures, marked "Glass Rm. Hot Houses", in the middle of the block. Note the vacant space of its upper left corner where the pond was situated. Note also in its lower right is the corner building seen in Image # 7. The neighboring buildings are easily noted, with the apparent absence of Phoenix Hall, which may have been partially cleared by then.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A View in Petersburg - Fort Davis - Then and Now

     Some years ago, National Park Service historian Chris Calkins was reviewing period images of the siege works around Petersburg, taken by assorted photographers, and now in the collection of the Library of Congress. One image in particular was labeled "Fortification - Petersburg?" The LOC's uncertainty intrigued Mr. Calkins. Armed with his many years of on the ground study of the remaining works around the region, he wagered a guess that it was a rare view of Fort Davis, a square, Federal position, about a half mile below the site of much photographed, Fort Sedgwick, aka "Fort Hell". Calkins later dispatched historian and cartographer, David Lowe, to examine the site and verify his suspicions, and the mystery was solved. Lowe's examinations confirmed the view was taken from the southeast corner, atop the parapet, looking roughly 335 degrees NW. Closer inspection reveals the wooden bridge at the Sally Port entrance to the fort. At far right in the image is the Jerusalem Plank Road, today called Crater Road, or Route 301, heading its way toward the city.
     On Sunday, March 2, 2014, the Civil War Fortification Study Group visited Fort Davis as one of the closing events of their annual meeting, at Petersburg. Mr. Lowe recounted his journey to verify this image, which piqued your blog host's interest. The resultant "then and now" comparison is one of the most intriguing that I have created, due to the eye opening changes that time has wrought on the works. Erosion has taken a profound toll on the parapet. Several bombproofs are virtually erased, save for small, protruding mounds along the interior wall. A diagonal, parados traverse, seen at left, has suffered damage from machinery clear-cutting the interior of the fort, and is currently covered by new-growth trees. Fort Davis is not part of the Petersburg National Battlefield, but is maintained by the City of Petersburg. Click on images for larger viewing.
 Sometime in 1865, photographer unknown.
 March 2, 2014, photograph by John Cummings
Diagram of Fort Davis by Union engineer, Nathaniel Michler.
Notice the diagonal, parados traverse through the center.
2007 aerial view from Google Earth. Notice the parados traverse.
 Looking in the same general direction as the then and now comparison,
 this view was taken from outside the surrounding ditch, below the parapet.
Photograph by John Cummings. 
View looking roughly north from inside the fort, across the sally port, 
toward the former Jerusalem Plank Road. Photograph by John Cummings.

Below, you will find an overlay that moves between the two images, provided by friend and fellow blogger, John Banks, of John Banks' Civil War Blog. Place your cursor over the top image and move back and forth from the "then" to the "now" images.