A famous site today: slaves crossing the Rappahannock


From John Hennessy

This post will mean a good deal more to you if you read our posts on this image, here and here–some of the most popular posts we have done.

This image, and a close companion, were taken on or about August 19, 1862, during Pope’s retreat from Culpeper County. The image shows slaves crossing the Rappahannock River at Tinpot Ford, just below the Orange and Alexandria Bridge, visible in the background. It is one of the most famous images of the Civil War, used constantly to illustrate slaves’ efforts to achieve freedom. It has become ubiquitous, even a bit of a cliche, largely because no other image comes close to matching its power.

In our look at the images last year, we were able to show where the image was taken, but did not have access to the site itself.  Our friend Clark B. “Bud” Hall, an indefatigable and unconquerable preservationist and maven of all things Civil War Culpeper (he is the only one of the Virginia crowd of preservationists to have his picture on the front of a national magazine, so far as I know), recently managed to visit the site and kindly share with us this image of the site today.  His explanation follows.

This is Tinpot Run Ford, and the old road from Culpeper approaches the river from the south (still there). The ford road comes out of the river on the north side and is still quite evident where it [crossses] the river into Fauquier. If you look carefully [at the original], you can discern Tinpot Run entering the river. 

This is a modern-day view (July 2012). The ground I am standing on is the sandbar situated in the river you can see above. The river curls around to the…south from there. As is shown in the original images, you can barely discern Tinpot Run to the right. 

My picture is taken a bit closer than O’Sullivan’s original image, and you can see the bridge (re-built) appears closer–which is a function of the zoom lens distorting the natural depth of field.. I will return to this scene on August 19 and take the picture on or about the same day it was taken 150 years ago.

Our great thanks to Bud Hall for passing this image along.
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