Battlefield Guide Services

Friday, May 23, 2014

O'Sullivan's Bethel Church Photographs - In Real-time - May 23, 2014 - A Sesquicentennial Examination

     Your blog host visited the site of General Burnside's temporary headquarters at Bethel Church today. Situated at a country road intersection, known these days as Paige, VA, this still active congregation sits about five and a half miles east of modern Route 1, and roughly nine and three quarter miles southeast of the Massaponax Church, site of my May 21st posting. Burnside occupied the church from 2:00 P.M. on May 22, until about an hour after sunrise on the 23rd. I arrived there myself, about 10:30 A.M., to make certain I would be around at the same time as photographer Timothy O'Sullivan, 150 years later, to the day. As it turned out, I would have about an hour long wait, watching the sun rise higher in the sky, and the shadows it created on the building grow longer. In that time I remained, for the most part, the lone occupant of the site, with the exception of five bicyclists that took a breather nearby, a mailman on his rounds, and sporadic through traffic. At the end of this post, the reader will find a two minutes video, shot while waiting for the sun to shift, where I discuss the movement of the shadows, and accounting for the differences in time from 1864 to today. In the past century and a half, the Earth's rotation has sped up and slowed down, it's a fact, but we are speaking of microseconds, and the Earth does wobble a bit, with many factors, including earthquakes, the gravitational pull of the sun, moon and other planets factoring in. But, we can, within reasonable expectations, be comfortable that we are seeing things pretty much as O'Sullivan and the soldiers he photographed that day, saw things, in real-time. I was also fortunate to have one unexpected condition answer a question that arose as I moved my camera about to near the same locations as my wet plate wielding predecessor. I will explain that further down.
O'Sullivan's stereoview, looking northwesterly, at about 10:13 A.M., Civil War time.
The view today, 150 years after, at 11:24 A.M., modern time.
O'Sullivan's southwesterly view, somewhere probably before or after the previous image.
I hesitate to place a time on this image, outside of the date, with any certainty, due to the
lack of strong shadows cast on the building. The large tree, and the figures are silhouetted,
giving indication that the sun is most likely in the same position as in the previous view, but... is a modern view, taken at 11:28 A.M., modern time, under an atmospheric
condition alluded to at the top of this post. What had me wondering, and I do
speak of it in the video below, is the absence of strong shadows in the period
image. And amazingly the answer presented itself, right as I set up to take the
present day view. Clouds! Scattered clouds blocked the sun right when I needed
them, and demonstrated that O'Sullivan was working with the same conditions.
The cloud cover creates a diffused light, softening the contrasts on the building walls.
And in this view, taken at 11:29 A.M., a minute later, the sun has again emerged,
showing that indeed the strong shadows are again revealed. After that the clouds
 pretty much burned off for several hours. I certainly felt blessed. Mystery solved.
Here is a full frontal view of the church, looking slightly southwest, taken at 11:25 A.M.,
modern time, which would approximate at 10:14 A.M., Civil War time, showing the 
configuration of the shadows seen in the first O'Sullivan view, at top. In the video
below, I go into a brief discussion of where the shadows fall on the easily 
countable courses of brick in the 1864 images. For all intents and purposes,
we are looking at Bethel Church at exactly 150 years after O'Sullivan's images.

Enlarged detail, with adjusted contrast, to reveal the shadows of approximately,
10:13 A.M., on the morning of May 23, 1864, as photographed by O'Sullivan.
Compare with the modern image seen above the video.


Theron Keller said...

How do you determine that the local time for the Civil War photos was around 10:14, etc?

John Cummings said...

Civil War time is based on subtracting an hour from modern time, because of daylight savings time, plus the subtraction of another 11 minutes for the adjustment of "railroad time", which was made law in 1918.

John Heiser said...

Excellent comparison, John. Interesting that O'Sullivan would expose so many plates on this lone church when it's not as significant as Massaponax Church or other corps commander's headquarters where only one or two photographs were taken.