Souvenir Battlefield Photos – 1887


From Eric Mink:

As described in a prior post (found here), a large group of Massachusetts veterans traveled to the Fredericksburg area in May 1887. Their visit to the local battlefields wrapped up a weeklong trip to Virginia that started in Norfolk, took them to Petersburg and Richmond, before arriving in Fredericksburg.

Among the party were two photographers. William H. Tipton, the famed photographer of the battlefield at Gettysburg is highlighted in the prior post.  The second photographer chronicling the veterans’ excursion was Frederick H. Foss of Dover, New Hampshire. A veteran of the war, Foss joined the 56th Massachusetts Infantry in March 1864, accepting a $325 bounty. He suffered a gunshot wound, which resulted in the loss of an index finger, at Bethesda Church on May 31, 1864. After the war, Foss lived in Dover, New Hampshire and made his living as a photographer.  The list of attendees for the May 1887 visit to the Fredericksburg area does list Foss as being present.

Both Tipton and Foss marketed for sale the images they made on this trip. The two men used their lenses to record similar, but different, things, however. Tipton appears to have been more interested in landscape images of the battlefields that might appeal to a broad audience. Foss, on the other hand, took numerous photos of excursion members, thus chronicling the visit and marketing his photos as souvenirs of the trip.

Foss’s “List of Views” from that trip shows that he offered copies of 25 photos from the visit, including scenes from Petersburg, Richmond area battlefields, and the Fredericksburg area battlefields.

Robert E.L. Krick first published some of these photos in the April 1994 issue of Blue & Gray Magazine. Bob’s article, entitled “The Blunt Collection of Cold Harbor Photographs,” looked at five of the photos in the Foss series. The five images had belonged to George A. Blunt, a veteran of the 2nd New York Heavy Artillery and attendee of the 1887 excursion. All of Blunt’s photos, published in Bob’s article, were taken on the Cold Harbor battlefield.

Locating copies of the other photos in the series has required some work and involved the collections of a number of repositories. The Alexandria Library in Alexandria, Virginia has a majority of the images produced by Foss, including those taken at Petersburg, Cold Harbor and the battlefields around Fredericksburg. The library’s collection of 19 of 25 Foss images can be viewed on its website here.

A couple of Foss’s photos show the Confederate earthworks at Spotsylvania’s “Bloody Angle.” It is difficult to say exactly where these photos were taken, as there are no identifiable landmarks, but we can assume the location was on the Muleshoe salient near what we know today as the Bloody Angle.

18. "View of Locality of Bloody Angle - Spottsylvania."

25. "bloody Angle Spottsylvania. The white cross shows the exact spot where the tree (18 inches in diameter) stood which was cut down by bullets. The tree is now in the War Department, Washington." It should be noted that no white cross is evident in this photo.

Foss’s photo of Fredericksburg from the front lawn of Brompton, on Marye’s Heights, is intriguing. It is a nearly identical view to the one Titpon produced, which can be seen here. A closer examination, however, reveals that they are not the same image. The angle of Foss’s photo suggests that he was likely just a few feet to the right of Titpon when the two took the photos.

22. "Fredericksburg from Marye's Heights."

Another view, in which Foss and Tipton recorded similar images, involved Orange Plank Road on the battlefield of the Wilderness. Tipton shot the vital intersection with Brock Road, which was the key to the battlefield. Foss however, focused on the veterans of the two Massachusetts regiments who were engaged at that location.

20. "View on the Orange Plank Road - Wilderness - showing position of the 1st Div., 9th Corps, May 6th, 1864."

As further evidence of Foss’s intent to market his photos as souvenirs, the following three photos clearly show the subjects as being the veterans themselves. The sites where they posed were secondary.

15. "Spottsylvania Court House and group."

17. "Group on steps of Beverly House - Spottsylvania."

16. "Group of Members of the 56th Massachusetts on the banks of the Ny river."

The fact that Foss’s photos have shown up in so many collections, at least three known repositories and a few private collections, suggests that Foss may have been successful in creating an immediate market for his images. In years of looking at historic photos of the local battlefields, I can say that those taken by the lesser known, perhaps even unknown, Foss are discovered much more often than Tipton’s images from the same 1887 reunion. Regardless of motive or audience, I think we’re all pleased that Foss and Tipton did record what they saw and that we have the benefit of their work 125 years later.

Eric J. Mink

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4 thoughts on “Souvenir Battlefield Photos – 1887

  1. The Foss picture from Mayre’s Heights is interesting. It appears to have been taken from in front of the out buildings, just above the intersection of Sunken Road and present day Kirkland St. Federal Hill is in the middle horizon, across the open plain. A reversal of the famous panorama views from Federal Hill’s lawn. That December would have been the 25th anniversary year of Fredericksburg. Neat stuff. Thanks for telling the story of their visit.

  2. Thanks Eric, this is fascinating stuff.

    Imagine being able to tour the Petersburg battlefields with General William Mahone? What a treat! I can hear Mahone’s description of the fight, “Here is where I beat back the 9th Corps. Here is where I routed Hancock’s corps. Here is where I captured a division from the 5th Corps.” Ha.

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