This blog has devoted several posts to the Second Battle of Fredericksburg component of the Chancellorsville Campaign, and to the photographic documentation of its landscapes, most recently and dramatically with a post exploring a newly identified image of Federal operations around Franklin’s Crossing on May 2, 1863.
Along with contemporaneous documents of Second Fredericksburg, I also find fascinating (if vexing) the postwar telling of its story—its historiography. Strangely, Second Fredericksburg has benefited from the impressive scholarship of historians such as John Bigelow, Douglas Southall Freeman, Stephen W. Sears, and Ernest B. Furgurson but only in books treating broader subjects, such as the Chancellorsville Campaign overall or the Army of Northern Virginia overall, and limited almost entirely to evaluating the non-photographic record.
Meantime, other scholars have pursued the battle’s rich photographic documentation in books, and with increasingly impressive results, beginning with the pioneering efforts of Francis Trevelyan Miller’s Photographic History of the Civil War of 1911, work that found dramatic elaboration and expansion in the 1980’s with Time-Life Books’ first Civil War series, and the National Historical Society’s Image of War series, themselves stepping-stones to further elaboration and discovery in fine books of the 1990’s and 2000’s.
Yet much of the photo-centric work on Second Fredericksburg neglects the full chronology of the battle’s key events, as highlighted by Bigelow, Freeman, and Sears in particular: six major troop movements in the demonstration phase, April 30-afternoon May 2, 1863; seven more during the start of the combat phase, evening May 2-early morning May 3; six more during the late-morning combats of May 3; and ten more on May 4-5, when the fighting shifted back from Salem Church towards and partially onto Marye’s Heights. Also neglected is a sense of the full expanse of key landmarks: from Hamilton’s Crossing and the Telegraph Road-Courthouse Road junction, on the south, to Banks/Scott’s Ford on the north, and from the Downman House (“Idlewild”) on the west to Franklin’s and Reynolds’ pontoon crossings on the east.
Instead, the focus remains on the powerful photograph of the dead Mississippians at the base of Marye’s Heights:
…and, after being revealed in the Time-Life and National Historical Society series of the 1980’s, on a number of photographs that look west across Fredericksburg on May 3 and depict battle smoke rising from the bases of Marye’s Heights and Lee’s Hill. (For a state-of-the-discipline inventory of Second Fredericksburg images as of 2005, as well as for a superb survey of the methods and personalities behind the war’s images overall, I highly recommend Bob Zeller’s The Blue and Gray in Black and White: A History of Civil War Photography.) Zeller notes additional evidence of battle smoke along the heights and hill in photographs taken on May 3, 1863, including at left-center in this detail from an image made sometime prior to the Federals’ successful mid-morning attacks, launched around 10:30:
Fredericksburg, morning May 3, 1863. Looking generally west from Pine Grove farm, with possible artillery-smoke identified by historian Bob Zeller. Library of Congress.