The many striking works of Harper’s Weekly special artist Alfred R. Waud include this sketch of one of the Army of the Potomac’s Stafford County reviews in 1863. The sketch’s appearance on this blog probably represents its first-ever publication in an interpretive venue:
(Higher-resolution versions are available here.)
The scope of Waud’s extraordinary picture, and its identification of the reviewed troops as the “Infantry of the Army of the Potomac” generally, suggest that his subject was the largest of the reviews, held on April 8 under the gaze of President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln may be astride the horse slightly advanced from all the others on the rise at lower left.
At first glance, the sweeping panorama seems an ideal companion to an equally broad, contemporary map of the April 8 review, with broken red lines denoting the approach of various corps to the review grounds and small black arrows denoting their review-direction once present on those grounds. Like the sketch, the map appeared recently on a Library of Congress website. Here’s a detail:
John Hennessy has transposed the map onto the modern landscape, in an earlier blog-post.
Looking at either the Civil War map or John’s plotting of its key features atop the Stafford County of today, does anything about the sketch strike you as odd?
Hint: the oddity is amplified by the very height and scope of Waud’s perspective—by the artistic ambition that makes the sketch so powerful. More specifically, what do you not see?
Waud did not draw any buildings, at least none readily distinguishable from the beflagged masses of troops in the distance.
The Civil War map clearly shows that the review-zone offered abundant cleared space for marching soldiers but also hosted farmsteads at regular and fairly close intervals. While most of the fencing and many of the outbuildings had probably fallen victim to either the first Federal occupation of the area, beginning in April 1862, or the second, beginning in November of that year, the primary dwellings at many of these properties—the most prominent structures—had survived the vicissitudes of war to be noted by the mapmaker in April 1863. Identified by the names of their owners or occupants, these included Primmer (top left on the map), Mackay, Manning, Sthreshley, Fitzhugh (“Boscobel”), Little, Roy, and Phillips (“Mulberry Hill”) at lower left…plus several buildings denoted only as black dots.
The map’s plotting of the degree to which the various corps converged while passing in review suggests, to me at least, the position that the President would have occupied longest to see the most soldiers on April 8: a point about midway between the Sthreshley (“Thrisly” on the map) and Burton Houses:
An upper window or rooftop of either would, in turn, have presumably offered Waud a vantage point for sketching both Lincoln and the troops that passed. (I would guess that Lincoln then shifted eastward to review the Sixth Corps and the artillery, over by Fitzhugh and Little.)
Yet no corresponding buildings appear in the sketch.
How might we solve this mystery? Waud was obviously not working under fire, and therefore had the luxury to sketch to virtually any degree of completeness he desired. Perhaps he felt that the inclusion of civilian landscape-elements would have diminished the power and animation of the military pageantry. Or maybe he sketched this particular view from a position looking outward, towards just one of the corps as it approached the review grounds—across an area less densely landmarked with farmsteads—rather than looking inward, across one or more corps traversing the likely center of those grounds, along the Sthreshley-Burton axis.
Pt. 2, next: further documentation and interpretation, and Lincoln’s emotional closeness to the troops under review
Noel G. Harrison