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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Morning After - May 13, 2014 - Where Alfred Waud Sketched, 150 Years Ago Today

     And now it's all over. Thousands of visitors had come and gone for the past ten days. They came to walk the ground hallowed by the blood of two armies, a century and a half after the fact. Many came to honor their own ancestors who fought and died here in Spotsylvania County. Some freely acknowledge their families came to America after the Civil War. It's the strange allure of the conflict, the defining drama of our nation. Others can't define what brought them. But there is a kinship amongst all that came out to see the very ground, and hear the horrific accounts of the vicious struggle. And they ended their pilgrimage on this now quiet field. Quiet for yet another day. For twenty-two hours, starting around 4:30 on May 12, 1864, it was hell on earth. Few who survived that day would write about it. It was that traumatizing. But those that did write their memoirs years later would leave little doubt about the ghastly aftermath. A private of the 95th Pennsylvania Infantry, G. Norton Galloway, described what he witnessed in the early morning of May 13, 1864:  "A momentary gleam of sunshine through the gloom of the sky seemed to add a new horror to the scene. Hundreds of Confederates, dead or dying, lay piled over one another in those pits. The fallen lay three or four feet deep in some places, and, with but few exceptions, they were shot in and about the head. Arms, accouterments, ammunition, cannon, shot and shell, and broken foliage were strewn about. With much labor a detail of Union soldiers buried the dead by simply turning the captured breastworks upon them. Thus had these unfortunate victims unwittingly dug their own graves. The trenches were nearly full of muddy water. It was the most horrible sight I had ever witnessed."

May 13, 2014, 6:34 A.M.
     Above, an embellished sketch by newspaper artist Alfred Waud, was drawn May 13, 1864, when the location was actually free of engaged troops. What Waud would have come upon was a field strewn with bodies of the dead and the associated debris of war. Harper's Weekly's "special artist" was an accomplished landscape artist and he accurately depicts the ground before him. The viewer can click the image and examine more closely the mastery of his craft. Notice that the bodies of the dead are of a slightly larger scale and are placed on the paper in a sketchy, quick hand. The figures of the soldiers doing the fighting are executed with more refinement, filled in after Waud would have returned to a conducive work space. It is also interesting that he included a conference of seemingly unfazed officers in the right foreground. Although Waud, and the other newspaper special artists of the day are characterized as having crawled toward an engagement and sketched a battle as it unfolded, I have no illusion that he would have done so at this hot a location. This sketch was later turned into an engraving and published in the June 11, 1864 issue of Harper's Weekly on pages 376-377.
     On October 11, 2009, I enlisted the assistance of National Park Service historian Eric Mink to confirm the location from which I believed Waud had made his base sketch. I established a static camera position with the camera on a tripod, and then directed Eric to assume various poses in the approximate locations of the figures Waud created from his skilled imagination. In all, Eric kindly repositioned himself sixty-three times across the landscape, including the distant prolongation of the Federal line that created the "Bloody Angle", the area where Waud depicted the heavy billowing of gunsmoke at middle right. As seen above, I then digitally combined all the "Erics" into a finished piece.
     A few years later, a rubberized mulch trail was installed across the position of the kneeling Union soldiers, along with an interpretive sign utilizing Waud's drawing. 

1 comment:

Tom Danninger said...

John, excellent piece of work.