Two mystery images explored–and two mysteries unresolved

From John Hennessy:

We love nothing better than to resolve mysteries here, but sometimes, despite our best efforts, mysteries persist. Take these two photographs. Both are credited to army photographer Andrew Russell, said to be taken May 2 and May 3, 1863.

The first is labeled “Battery of 32-pounders Fredericksburg May 3, 1863.” We’ll call this image #1.

The other is labeled, “First Connecticut Battery near Fredericksburg, May 2, 1863,” which we will henceforth refer to as #2:

A few things right up front.  Most importantly, these images are not of the “First Connecticut Artillery” or “A Battery of 32-pounders.” The guns visible in both images are 12-pounder light field guns, Napoleons. The only two Connecticut artillery batteries in the Army of the Potomac in the spring of 1863 were armed with 4.5-inch guns, not the field guns shown here. Clearly, the labels are wrong in that respect.

We do know that these photos were taken by Russell, who took a number of important images in the vicinity of Franklin’s Crossing (the Lower Crossing) during the Chancellorsville Campaign (see here for an exploration of another one), including some that were taken on May 2 and May 3. But, circumstances (bolstered by what I think are some valid assumptions) suggest that these at least one of these images was taken a couple of days earlier. The clues are in the details.

Of the two, Image #1 is the most enigmatic. It’s a terrific view, but there seems to be little in the image to suggest to us a location or a moment in time. It shows a battery of Napoleons fully deployed, with limbers and caissons properly aligned behind them.  Here’s a close-up of the gun nearest the camera.

Notice something about several of the men in this enlargement (and elsewhere in the image). On the right side of their kepis is a corps badge–the diamond of the Union Third Corps. Moreover, it appears to be a WHITE diamond, which would indicate the Second Division. That matters, because, assuming that the image’s connection with Russell and his work in late April or early May is accurate, this reduces the number of possible subjects to just three batteries, all of them armed with Napoleons, and all of which departed the Franklin’s Crossing area about 3 p.m. on April 30.  Up to that time, they were positioned “near the bank of the Rappahannock, about midway between the crossings of Sedgwick [at Franklin’s Crossing] and Reynolds’ Corps [at and below Pollock’s Mill].”

Unfortunately there is little in the background to suggest a location for this image. A house does appear faintly on the distant horizon, and while coupling the known location of these batteries with nearby houses offers some possibilities, we can conclude nothing.

If the supposition is correct–that this image was taken of one of three Third Corps batteries before they departed to join the main army at Chancellorsville on April 30–then all we can really conclude of this image is that it was taken a couple of days earlier than presumed. Beyond that, we still have work to do. You can download and explore a hi-res version of this yourself here.

Image #2 is one of the better images ever taken of a Civil War battery unlimbered and in position, though as with most such photographs, the men in the image are clearly aware that their picture is being taken. Details abound. (Download a hi-res version for yourself here.)

Detail from Image #2

Look at the #1 man just beyond the barrel of the first gun. He has a white corps badge on the top of his kepi–by all appearances the badge of the Second Corps (white was indicative of the second division of that corps):  UPDATE and CORRECTION: As Todd and Stu point out in the comments, upon closer inspection these are NOT corps badges, but rather the artillery’s crossed-cannon insignia with regiment or company designation above it. 

Farther down the line, other men wear the insignia in the same way:

We cannot, therefore, identify the battery in the view.  We know that Union artillery covered the Lower Crossing in great numbers. We know too that several batteries of Napoleons deployed on the high ground between the Lower Crossing and Pollock’s Mill–with even more farther downstream than that (all of these from the Union First Corps). If indeed this image is taken on Stafford Heights, then we do know this: the camera faces nominally north–the guns presumably face across the river to the left.

The background of this image is rich with detail. There are two seemingly permanent camps visible–one toward the left, and another on the right edge. On the horizon are a few features that beg identification or explanation.

At left in this enlargement (above) is what appears to be a sizeable lunette.  To the right is an odd structure with a tree either within it or behind it.

A little farther to the right is this strange structure (below), to the left of the mid-sized trees:

It almost looks like a tower of sorts, though in all my travels through source material related to the winter encampment, I have never seen reference to any signal or observation towers being built.

Everything in the image suggests this battery is in position on Stafford Heights–the encampments, the topography (including the ground that appears to start down on the left edge of image #2). But based on the information available, I cannot suggest a definitive location for either of these images, beyond the high ground south of the Lower Crossing and north of Pollock’s Mill, but even that cannot be offered with certainty. But, we do know that neither of these images is of a a battery of 32-pounders or a battery from Connecticut.  We know one is from the Second Corps, one from the Third.  And if indeed the images are associated with the movement of the army to the Lower Crossing, we can narrow the date on at least image #1 to before 3 p.m. on April 30.  We can divine too that the foliage seems to match other images known to be taken during this period.

But beyond those things, the mysteries remain.  So, here is one for you.  Take a look, explore. Maybe you will spot something or think of something I have missed.

17 thoughts on “Two mystery images explored–and two mysteries unresolved

  1. In that second image could what you are seeing as the II Corp’s trefoil be instead a crossed cannon insignia with battery letter above it, just blurry? I ask because when I look at the full size image you posted the man standing on the far right of the photo much more obviously has a crossed cannon artillery badge on his cap.

  2. I would concur with Stu, those do not look like a trefoil badges of the Second Corps on the caps of those soldiers. Instead, it appears to be crossed cannons of the artillery and possibly the battery letter too.

    – Todd Berkoff

  3. In fact, if you look closely at “#1 man” in the second image, one can make out the battery letter AND regimental number above and below the crossed cannons insignia (not sure which is which). The battery may still belong to the 2nd Corps given the date of photo, terrain, location, etc., but this unit does not appear to be wearing corps badges on their kepis, at least as far as we can tell. Back to the drawing board for this image I think.

    – Todd Berkoff

    • Todd, Stu: Looking closer, you are clearly correct. Good catch. The crossed cannons are clearly visible on the fellow at the extreme right of the image. I’ll revise accordingly. John H.

  4. I had the same thought as Stu about image #2, that instead of a corps badge the image on the hats are crossed cannons. Thanks for another excellent post.

    Martin Husk

    • It could be, but the image of the battery near Mannsfield was taken in June. Given the foliage on the trees in the images shared above, it seems likely that were indeed taken sometime around early May.

  5. I haven’t gone over the photos to be sure, but any chance that one of these batteries could be the same one from the May 9th post?

    Martin Husk

  6. Looking at the first image again. As you pointed out the white diamond is clearly visible which would make this 2nd Division 3rd Corps artillery, which had 3 batteries of Napoleons, Winslow, Sanderson, and Seely.

    Interestingly the 3rd gun from the right has a very rare tube. Visible are the two “handles” on top of the tube between the trunnions. This is a very rare feature on Napoleons, only found on 30 or so guns, all of which were made before the war or in early 1861. These would have been issued to early forming units. Winslow’s battery didn’t join the army until the end of 1861 when the supply of these unusual guns would have likely already been exhausted.

    This would leave the two regular army batteries, Sanderson & Seely. The former would have been completely reequipped Spring of 1861 after evacuating Fort Sumpter. The later came east from Fort Ridgley MN in August 1861, but I have no idea if they brought their guns east with them, and if they did, whether they were still re-outfitted once they arrived.

    I would also swear the limbered cannon in the background is a Parrott. I wonder if this could make that gun part of McLean’s battery?

    • Stu: Your comment reflects one of the great benefits of this blog–the ability to engage a lot of very smart and knowledgeable people from all over to help figure things out. Thanks very much. John H.

  7. To add to Stu’s analysis and narrow “Image #1” even further, if we are assessing that “Image #1” is indeed a battery from the 2nd Division of the Third Corps, the three batteries in this division’s artillery brigade that were armed with 12-pounder Napoleans were heavily engaged on May 3rd in the fighting around Fairview, so I don’t see how it is possible that these batteries could have been photographed by Russell on May 2 or May 3 near Fredericksburg.

    Interestingly, I believe George Barstow’s/William McLean’s 4th Battery, New York Light was not engaged during the Battle of Chancellorsville–the battery did not take casualties–so it could have been in the rear where it was photographed, BUT, the battery was equipped with 10-pounder Parrott Rifles, not Napoleons, as Stu points out.

    Is it possible the dates for the photographs are wrong? If so, I would assess that this battery is either Winslow’s, Dimick’s, or Seeley’s.

    – Todd Berkoff

  8. Todd: That’s precisely one of the points I make in the post–that if #1 is indeed of a battery in the Third Corps, then the photograph had to have been taken before 3 p.m. on April 30, when all of the batteries departed first for Banks’s Ford, and then on to US Ford. It seems likely that the dates given at least that image is incorrect.

    Of course it’s possible that both images were taken at altogether different time. When I first looked closely at #1, it struck me as a posed shot, perhaps while the battery was on drill near their camp. #2 has a far more “active” feel to it, and the topography suggests something near the Rappahannock.

    In any event, well keep working on it. Eric has some information on ordnance that I could not get with him about today; maybe he has something that speaks to the unusual form of Napoleon that Stu pointed out earlier. John H.

    • Informative and instructive. Any forthcoming information on the artillery will be welcome.

      Some questions perhaps someone would address:

      Stu – Which battery came to the army from Minnesota? I’m interested because I grew up about 50 miles from Fort Ridgely. Is the name “Seely” or “Seeley”?

      Both pictures – Inaccurate dates and descriptions. I have figured out some of the ways CW photography can be analyzed, located, dated. Is there anything unique in the Russell series that helps? I do not see any numbering marks such as Mr. Cummings discusses in his work on Spotsylvania, so are there logs, diaries, notes to the editor, etc.?

      Both pictures – There are no earthworks. In the May ’63 context, would units have been deployed without throwing up even temporary protection?

      Picture #1 – Perhaps someone could comment on assigning different types of armament to one unit at this point in the war. Don’t know where I picked up the idea, but I thought the practice of “mixed batteries” had been set aside by mid-1863.

      Picture #1 – I think I’m seeing a local citizen dutifully protecting her grazing milk cows in the right center of the shot, supporting a previous observer’s notion this is something other than a unit arrayed for combat.

      As pointed out by others, the armament in photo #1 raises a lot of questions. At this point in the war [assuming Spring 1863 is reasonable], what artillery unit in the FEDERAL army would have so different pieces?

      I am NO authority on CW artillery, so I offer these observations at great hazard. Standard form Napoleons. The piece with handles. As pointed out by Stu, if it is a Napoleon with handles, one of so few in total number. Hazlett, Olmstead, Parks (page 92-93 of my copy), says “Thus of the 1,157 light 12-pounder guns made in the North, 33 at most had handles . . ” Stu also points out what appears to be a limbered Parrott with the group in the background. In the front line, the two tubes farthest from the camera may be similar pieces.

      There are other possibilities. Hazlett also show a 9-pounder [page 175] and a 12-pound field gun [page 177] with handles. Older requisitions, so if the piece in the photo is either of them, it would be a vestige of an earlier era.

      A more remote possibility is the piece pictured on page 68, a 6-pound Austrian piece. “.. purchased by Major Caleb Huse in Europe for the Confederacy were at least seventeen …”. Remotely possible only: one might conclude from the muzzle swell and faintly visible astragal behind the muzzle of the piece in photo #1 that it isn’t one of the Austrian imports.

      I mention the older and imported pieces because of something else I noticed in Hazlett.

      On page 106, Hazlett et. al. show a Confederate Napoleon made at Tredegar. Without the caption, it’s a Parrott.

      Can anyone envision a scenario where we are looking at a display of captured weapons in photo #1?

      Picture #2 – If the two photos are actually closely related in time, why are there no Corps badges like the white triangle of the 3rd Corp Artillery Brigade in photo #1? What type of badge was designed for the “horse artillery”? I did some research, but didn’t find a good answer. Russell also took some photos of officers in the “horse artillery”. An over-active imagination probably, but three of the gentlemen mounted amidst the pieces in Photo #2 look familiar.

      Picture #2 – In the Fredericksburg context, would a unit have been arrayed for combat so close to the fodder station, idle livestock and wagons visible just beyond the unit?

      Picture #2 – Any speculation based on the various parts of the scene? There is a mounted unit arrayed in line on the brow of the hill in the middle distance. The numbers do not suggest a regiment, more like an escort. At the far end of the artillery line is a small group standing with arms crossed. The most prominent of the group has an interesting coat and hat. One soldier is positioned as if he were checking the unit’s alignment. The position of the battery or supply wagon, even that it’s there, seems unusual.

      • The battery that came from Minnesota was Seely’s battery (or more correctly, Battery K, 4th US Artillery).

  9. Actually, his name is “Seeley” – Francis W. Seeley (1837-1910) and Battery K was stationed at Fort Ridgely, Minnesota at the start of the war before moving east. However, just because the battery was stationed in MN it does not mean its soldiers were from that state given it was a regular army battery. Seeley was from Ohio, for example.

  10. Correction: According to Seeley’s attached bio, he was stationed at Fort Snelling with the 3rd US Artillery from 1855-1861 and was posted to Battery K, 4th US Artillery AFTER the war started when these regular army batteries moved east and were reorganized.

  11. After reading in part this presentation, I thought of photographers possibly Captain Andrew J Russell, or Egbert Faux photographing the 3rd Corps. On April 27th, Stephen Sears noted in his Chancellorsville on page 144, this information: “…At 10 o’clock on the parade ground behind the town[Falmouth] Dan Sickles’s Third Corps staged a review for a party of distinguished visitors from Washington that included Secretary of State Seward…”
    In addition, please note on page 114 of Volume 2 of Miller’s Photographic History of the Civil War is a panorama of Sickles’ 3rd Corps. When you place these two images together it is a dramatic image of the largest military unit of 18,000 Union soldiers ever photographed in a war zone in the Civil War. Another photograph that may prove helpful is in Volume 1 of Millers on pages 58 and 59. I thought I would throw these bits of evidence into the discusssion regarding the Russell images.

  12. It appears that the Connecticut Heavy artillery under Jackson did have “light 12’s” I have read several orders that confirm it. Also here is a link to a drawing by Waud. CA 1864 which shows the light 12’s in action.

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