Posted by: The staff | January 30, 2011

A view behind the camera


From John Hennessy:

This is one of the most familiar views of the Civil War: a photograph taken from the Union side of the river across the ruined railroad Bridge at Fredericksburg, with a group of Confederates posing on the western terminus of the bridge.  (Update: for a good discussion of this photo, click here. Thanks to Steve Blancard for the link.)

This image, along with the many accounts of fraternization among pickets along the river, has become something of a symbol of the “brotherly” nature of the Civil War. Setting aside that argument for the moment (we’ll address that another day), the image remains intensely interesting–showing through a Union lens Confederate soldiers in the field.  The image is occasionally attributed to December 17, 1862, during the burial truce between the two armies. I haven’t dug into all this–that’s not my purpose today. (See the comment below, which dates the image to the spring of 1863.)

My purpose is to share an image of what likely preceded the arrival of the photographer at the end of the bridge. The great artist Alfred Waud was there, and he sketched this image, showing an excited gaggle of Yankee soldiers preening and peering at their enemies across the river. If not literally the scene behind the camera, it certainly illustrates the unseen side of the photograph, for surely behind the photographer that day were Yankees looking on. 

Not the most important revelation we have shared, but a different view of a familiar scene is always interesting.

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Responses

  1. I believe these images were taken by Captain Andrew J Russell’s photographic team in early April, 1863.

  2. Only one spike per railroad tie. Judging by the lack of blurred images in the closeup of the group of Confed. soldiers it looks they were posing for the shot.

  3. This is one of my favorite photos and one that seems to have endless details to explore. The artist’s drawing adds a new and interesting dimension as well.

    A while back there was a detailed discussion about this photo on the Authentic Campaigner website that may be of interest. It is located here:

    http://www.authentic-campaigner.com/forum/showthread.php?17258-Confederates-across-bridge-in-Fredericksburg&highlight=fredericksburg+railroad

    • Thanks very much for the link, Steve. Interesting stuff.


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