Discussion of all social, political and cultural aspects of the American Civil War battles fought in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness and Spotsylvania.
Antebellum to modern day perspective of the material culture effects of these engagements, both military and civilian. From time to time your blog host will examine other Civil War sites such as Manassas, Gettysburg, and Petersburg.
All original material copyright 2022 by John F. Cummings III
I am now two weeks away from the fourth anniversary of my initial investigations into the location of Gettysburg's "Harvest of Death", and "Field Where Reynolds Fell" photo series. Over the four years I have made some early adjustments as to the camera position on the field, but have not wavered from the one key element of my work, that the Thompson House is sitting in the upper right horizon of the O'Sullivan view titled, "Gettysburg, Pa. Bodies of Federal soldiers, killed on July 1, near the McPherson woods". This has been fought tooth and nail by the Center for Civil War Photography's co-founder and vice-president, Garry Adelman. In late October this year, he showed a giant anaglyph of the "Federal dead on the right of the Federal lines, killed on July 1" variation, taken by James Gibson, while telling a walking tour he was conducting about the "importance of seeing these images in stereo" when attempting to find their location. Yes, yes indeed Garry, it is vital. Below, I provide stereo pairings from the original O'Sullivan negatives, and a modern stereo pair I made in September. I don't make anaglyphs so pull out your real viewers, such as those issued with the first two Bob Zeller books, or old CCWP seminars, and take a look. Click on the images to see them in larger format as well, especially if the right hand column of this blog interferes with your viewing from the home page.
Get your viewers ready!
If you are new to all this hubbub, take time to review some of the more recent postings I have made here, especially the ones featuring videos with overlays. Please read my dissection of the actual Harvest of Death photograph companion image as well. In four years I have provided plenty of evidence that the location is found, yet the steadfast denials still spill forth. How many supposed coincidences of "similar ground" but not "the" place can be asserted before it gets ridiculous? All the logic in the world, and the topographic evidence, along with the ORIGINAL CAPTIONING for Pete's sake! Let's see where this goes!
Here is a little video to lay out the location of this series. Enjoy.
Next month, on November 18, I will mark the fourth anniversary of my investigations into the Harvest of Death/Field Where General Reynolds Fell photos. My adventure began as support to the work of historian Scott Hartwig who had published his findings initially on the Gettysburg, NPS Blog, and later in the magazine, Civil War Times. Hartwig's work was immediately met with resistance by Garry Adelman of the Center For Civil War Photography. Adelman's position was that William A. Frassanito had discounted the site years before. Adelman proceeded to produce a thirteen part dissection of where the Harvest of Death was not, demonstrating numerous past proposals by himself and other investigators, include Mr. Hartwig and my own. That series appeared over several months on the Gettysburg Daily Blog. The episodes concerning my work were filmed on February 5 and 15 of 2012, but were not posted until May, months after my continuing work had been adjusted and fine tuned. Nowhere in this time (or since) was Mr. Adelman welcoming to my offers of meeting with him and actually presenting my material in person, something that I had assumed courtesy would permit. Thus, when posted, Adelman's refutations of my work featured a site long out of line with the ground I had settled on, and he has since adamantly stated that the true location will "never be found". Certain circles consider Mr. Adelman's word to be sacrosanct. This has recently led others to offer wide ranging proposals of the "true" location of the Harvest of Death, making it the obsessively desired, "Tut's Tomb", of Civil War photography.
The foundation of my work has always been based on what I have stated to be a long visible clue in the upper right hand corner of Timothy O'Sullivan's exposure, titled by Gardner, "Field where General Reynolds Fell". It has been consistently my assertion, over many blog postings and other writings, that the features on the horizon are the Thompson House, and the Dustman House. The Dustman House no longer stands, but appears in other photographs, so we know what it looked like, and we know exactly where it stood. The Thompson House, of course, remains today as the site of Lee's Headquarters, on Chambersburg Pike, and is soon to be restored by the Civil War Trust.
I will not repeat my previous material, as it stands on its own and is easily found by searching this blog, but I will present two brief videos made after a recent return trip to the site on September 25th. Here I demonstrate, using overlays, that the landscape just east of the Reynolds death marker, along Reynolds Avenue, is, clearly, the location of the bodies seen in the July 1863 images.
What I continue to find sad about the deniers of this site, is that when I visited the location on the 150th anniversary of Gardner's team's visit, my wife and I, and fellow blogger Scott Manning, were the only people there to recognize the dead and the ground they fell on. Scott's coverage of that day can be found here. This is what we do our research for in the end, so that these honored dead can be appreciably recognized for where they fought and died, and hopefully we can achieve a better understand of the battlefield.
Below, the first video shows the full, left hand side of Timothy O'Sullivan's stereo negative, with my toggling back and forth between the period and modern images, pointing out important features.
View the videos in full screen.
Below, I have zoomed in for a closer view of the horizon features as well as the contoured land between. As mention in the previous video, James Anderson stands in the modern image along the location of the northern fence that enclosed the "Field Where General Reynolds Fell".
Below, are three progressive views of the overlay used in the videos.
Below, my October 2012 map of the camera's field of view, indicated in bright green.
Below, a close up of the area where the northern fence enclosed the field.
The beginning and ending points of the path taken by James Anderson for
the September 25, 2015 photo used in the overlay video, are marked "A" and "B".
The approximate point at which he is stopped along the way is marked by "J"
This image is not made from the above map, and shows notation lines of other points
not discussed in this presentation.
For four years I have not wavered in my assertion we are seeing the Thompson House on the horizon. It is the vital clue to anchoring the location. The evidence speaks for itself.
Since last night's posting, I am adding these of the opposite view for those who have not read my previous material. Please, examine my numerous prior posts, Enter "Harvest of Death"in the search box near the top of the right hand column. There is plenty to see.
One of the last remaining pre-Civil War structures along lower Sophia Street in downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia, has succumb to years of neglect with an as of yet unspecified plan for the property. Initial efforts to preserve the 1843 structure were foiled the day before when removal of a later addition on the north face of 401 Sophia Street revealed severe termite damage, making any thought of restoration unfeasible.
The building can be seen in several war era photographs of Fredericksburg taken from the Stafford County side of the Rappahannock River.
Update! It has now come out that University of Mary Washington students and faculty, of the Historic Preservation Department, were scheduled to document the structure on Saturday, August 29, but the "owners opted not to wait even that long."
Below are details from period photographs along with photos and a link for a video taken the morning of the demolition.
Images circa 1863-1864, F&SNMP, and Library of Congress
Prints and Photographs Division. Looking west, from the river.
Above, one of the last photographs taken of the river face of the building, looking west, at 8:37 AM,
August 27, 2015. Remains of additions to the north face of the building are visible to the right,
and foreground. The photos below were taken between 8:14 and 9:15 AM,
Above, Steve Smallwood, Deputy Director of Building Services Division for the City of Fredericksburg, and Erik Nelson, Senior Planner of the Fredericksburg City Planning Department, along with members of the demolition crew from Abby Construction, examine architectural elements from the debris. Below, an original roof truss and details of its construction.
Salvaged foundation stones and an oak beam from 401 Sophia Street.
Tomorrow is the 152nd anniversary of the death of the men seen in this photograph, taken by Timothy O'Sullivan, and published by Alexander Gardner. This is the image that has caused countless clamorings, as to its precise location on the battlefield, since first examined in a scholarly form by William A. Frassanito in his groundbreaking work, Gettysburg - A Journey In Time, published in 1975. The print below is most typical of published versions as they appeared in Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War.
Below we have, as described by Frassanito himself, in his 1995 in-depth study, Early Photography at Gettysburg, "one of the best versions currently available, courtesy of the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Va.". Its merits are owing to the rich tone and thorough burning of the "horizon line, much sharper than prints in other collections. However, this horizon line is not true, it is a fabrication created by an opaque masking applied to the glass negative as well as artistic embellishments made to multiple print copies that were rephotographed to achieve a marketable composition from a less than stellar original exposure. I offered this subject in a previous post in September of 2012. But, after nearly three years, and the virtually ignored sesquicentennial recognition of this image's honored dead, it is time that these facts are incorporated in our understanding of the true nature of its creation.
In the copy below I have drawn a black line to delineate the upper third of Gardner's creation. This is the area that was contrived. The process is clearly evidenced by magnification and the existence of progressively modified prints in two other collections.
The first print we will examine comes from the collection of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, in Ithaca, NY. This version shows some of the first steps in defining distant ground as well as the appearance of a smudge or stain that will eventually become the basis of the "standing" figure. Notice the nonexistence of the mounted figure usually seen at left of center. Very evident pencil markings are seen, used to help define the horizon. This is one of the earliest stages in the creation of what was to become a century and a half old con job.
The next image, this time from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, shows the continued progression of the ruse. The identical pencil markings seen in the previous print can be seen along with penciled in suggestions of what would become shadow trees in the final version. Also evident is the further enhancement of the standing "smudge" man and the suggestion of a riderless horse. To the left of center is the crudely drawn beginnings of what will become the mounted figure. Over burning has begun to fill in the sky below an initial masking, creating the false horizon.
For clarification purpose, here are the tops of the two prints so that the reader can see the gradual building up of the composition that we have come to know as A Harvest of Death.
Below, I have enlarged a detail of the Cornell print, showing the pencil work and the origins of "smudge man", and the clear absence of the mounted figure. Note the bright, artificial sky.
Here is the Library of Congress print with the same enlarged area. Identical pencil work, and the first suggestions of the additional mounted figure.
The next three enlargements are from the Chrysler Museum print. There is a very obvious painted edge of the false trees, created by the application of opaque material to the glass negative. These are not real trees silhouetted against a bright sky, They are a darkening of the area not covered by the opaque masking with a longer exposure during the print out process. The pattern made by the brush bristles is evident as well. The remaining print has no strong, contrasting white area. It is muddied. Opaquing the sky was a common practice with Gardener. Many of his negative show this, and in this case the process was used to essentially create a piece of art from an otherwise flawed negative. Note also the shadow trees against the false tree line, identically place where the penciled trees appear in the Library of Congress copy. Gardner's stereo version was created with a similar process as I also documented in a post from June of 2013.
Additional material on this and its companion photograph are available at the links below: