Note: click the photos and map below for magnifications.
Readers may recall a 2019 article on this blog that published, probably for the first time in an interpretive venue, Henri Lovie’s extraordinary, panoramic sketch of the Fredericksburg battlefield on December 13, 1862. I had no idea that soon I would also come across a photographic, partial counterpart made later during the Civil War:
The Civil War Collection, The Photography Collections, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) owns and in digital format posted online this albumen silver print, [View of a City Across Fields]. I explore it below through cropping and annotation and perhaps for the first time in an interpretive venue, along with identifying the unnamed community as the town of Fredericksburg during the Civil War. UMBC’s kind assistance, encouragement, and permission for one-time publication make this article possible. Their link to the unique and revealing photograph, measuring 17” by 7 ¼”, and the means to view a high-resolution, png version are here.
UMBC’s sharing it is especially timely because 2022 brings the 160th anniversary of the first of the two Civil War battles fought across the landscape in the photograph. This year also brings the 160th anniversary of the largest surge in the numerous, wartime freedom-journeys of formerly enslaved people northward through Fredericksburg, including via the roads that the image depicts entering the town from the south and west. (See quotation halfway down the article here for a particularly evocative overview, published in Fredericksburg in the Rev. James Hunnicutt’s Unionist Christian Banner newspaper, of their passing through the town during the late spring and summer of 1862, when Union troops had first occupied it.)
The UMBC photograph, made as I discuss below perhaps in February or March 1863, when the town was back under Confederate occupation, recorded the right half of the same, sweeping vista of Fredericksburg that Henri Lovie had drawn in December 1862. The Northern photographer chose an especially high viewpoint along Stafford Heights and, as Lovie had for the right half of the panoramic sketch, a northwest-looking perspective that avoided much of the visual obstruction of the town and its riverfront:
The resulting photograph offers a fascinating, oblique view of the Fredericksburg battlefield along and in front of Marye’s Heights and the Sunken Road/Stone Wall. My detail above, for instance, samples a small section of the image to highlight not only oft-drawn (including in Lovie’s panorama) or oft-photographed features such as the Hall; Innis; and Willis Hill homes but also the clearest of the wartime depictions that I’ve yet seen of rarely pictured structures such as the Fredericksburg Alms House, beside which Union artillery had fired on December 13, 1862; the Jennings House and a building probably at the brickyard north of the Unfinished Railroad–landmarks along the paths of Union infantry attacks that day; and, at the Hall and Stephens homesteads, dependency structures for which soldier descriptions have yet to be found but, as the photograph shows, were visually prominent features on the Confederates’ infantry line in the Sunken Road.Continue reading