Is this a Lost Panorama of Chancellorsville…Now Reassembled?

from:  Harrison

Recently, the Library of Congress posted online a blurry and unfinished but still intriguing sketch of the Battle of Chancellorsville.  The Library credits the artwork to Harper’s Weekly special artist Alfred R. Waud, and cites the manuscript caption “Somewhere near Chancellorsville – 1863.”  (You can find a hi-res version of the image here.)

Hoping to identify the subject-landscape of the drawing, my attention was drawn to several features in particular:  artillery in action under a cloud of smoke at center horizon, a homestead under a copse of trees at right horizon, and a linear shadow slanting down from the artillery and towards the lower right corner:

These features appear to have corresponding features in a completed Waud sketch bearing a partly struck-through caption, “Couchs hd. Quarters and afterwards center of our line.”  The sketch depicts the farmstead of Oscar and Catharine Bullock during combat on May 3, 1863 (again, a hi-res version can be found here):

Maj. Gen. Darius Couch had indeed established a headquarters in the Bullock House or its yard on May 1.  On May 3 the fields around the clearing hosted Federals defending against and counterattacking the Confederate drive west to and north of the Chancellorsville crossroads, with the Federals making the farm the center of their position after abandoning the crossroads.  The Bullock homestead was destroyed late in the battle.

Harper’s Weekly adapted Waud’s finished sketch as a woodcut, then published it on May 23, 1863:

Given the commonalities in the two drawings, and as proposed in my overlap below, I believe we are looking a finished three-quarters and an unfinished one-quarter of a Waud panorama that has not been reassembled until now–the scene at the Bullock farmstead that originally caught his eye.  The unfinished drawing extends the limit of that fuller scene to the left (to the northwest):

I offer below an estimated plotting of Waud’s viewing perspective (my red arrow), on a map of the battlefield probably delineated by Confederate engineer Benjamin Lewis Blackford shortly after the Union retreat across the river (my green arrow marks the ruins of the Bullock Homestead, with Blackford using a single black square to denote what had actually been a cluster of buildings there):

"Part of Spotsylvania County," Gilmer Civil War Maps Collection, Univeristy of North Carolina. Public Domain. North at top. Note Chancellorsville crossroads at lower right, and grisly notation about dead people and animals used to build fortifications.

Among the least-known aspects of the battle is that Confederates had built fortifications in the Bullock clearing by the time of the opening skirmishes in the area, on April 30 1863.  The salient earthwork-projections (pointed northwest) indicated on the finished portion of the sketch and on the map may represent some of these Southern fortifications, soon incorporated into the Union defensive position.

As this is a blog about mysteries and conundrums, I happily admit to being baffled by the building at left in the unfinished portion of Waud’s sketch.  The building appears on none of the half dozen wartime and early postwar maps of the area that I consider to be the most reliable.  The building bears a vague resemblance to the principal structure of Charles Kalmbach’s sawmill, which was situated to the northwest.  Yet the sawmill was probably too far away and separated by too much vegetation from the Bullock farm to be a match.  The mystery structure could be the schoolhouse mentioned in one or two contemporary accounts I’ve read (someplace) of the capture of Confederate pickets in the vicinity on April 30.  Most likely, the building, if not a figment of Waud’s artistic license, was one of the Bullocks’ agricultural structures and doomed to share the fate of the rest of their real estate.

Why would Waud abandon a quarter of the panorama?  Perhaps its two parts and the overlap zone between offer a chronographic record, of change over time in the same place.  Perhaps when Waud first arrived in the clearing and began sketching, the Union artillery blasting away on the horizon seemed most likely to dominate the scene and its story.  After a time, though, the Union infantry nearer his viewpoint, and their supporting artillery, could have carried Waud’s interest rightward, as they stirred to action and began advancing into the woods.

Noel G. Harrison

4 thoughts on “Is this a Lost Panorama of Chancellorsville…Now Reassembled?

  1. Nice work, Noel.

    Waud’s artistry is fascinating and, from my experience with splicing together two of his images that captures the landscape at Ferry Farm, incredibly accurate. The “mystery building” in the left of the unfinished Waud sketch, I would bet, is a real structure and not artistic license. Waud captures many architectural details of this building – story and a-half, placement of windows, door(s), etc. Too much detail for an agricultural building? I’d bet on that too! Plus, the mounted soldiers in association with the structure add another layer that suggests this structure was once part of the battlefield landscape.

    • Erik, Clint, and Paul: Thank you for the kind words. Paul: Great observations. And I, too, usually find Waud’s work to carry an almost photographic degree of reliability, although I have come across an apparent exception now and then. But in my opinion he’s far more accurate than his contemporary, Edwin Forbes. Noel

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