A Previously Unidentified, Panoramic Photograph of the Fredericksburg Battlefield, c. February or March 1863


from: Harrison

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:

Unknown photographer, [View of a City Across Fields], 1861-1865. Albumen silver print, 7.25 x 17 in. Civil War Collection, The Photography Collections, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), (P76-05-065). Used here and below with permission.

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.)

Detail from Unknown photographer, [View of a City Across Fields], 1861-1865. Albumen silver print, 7.25 x 17 in. Civil War Collection, The Photography Collections, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), (P76-05-065). Annotation by Noel G. Harrison.

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:

Detail from Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, Battle of Fredericksburg December 13, 1862 2:00-3:00 P.M., Map 4 of 5, Historical research by Frank A. O’Reilly, Illustrated by John Dove, Revised and produced by Steve Stanley (2001). Courtesy Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Directional arrow at upper right. Annotation by Noel G. Harrison: 1-Lower “Franklin’s” Pontoon Crossing, 2-Middle Pontoon Crossing (hidden in UMBC photograph by slope of riverbank), 3-gasworks, 4-“Sligo,” 5-brickyard structures north of Unfinished Railroad, 6-RF&P Railroad bridge-abutments on Hazel Run, 7-Rowe house, 8-Sisson’s Store, 9-Jennings house, 10-Hall house, 11-“Brompton.”

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.

Shifting the perspective southward in the UMBC image, I find pictorial evidence for additional wartime terrain-features not described, or under described, in the textual sources with which I’m familiar: the grade of the Unfinished Railroad possibly altered by the Federals in December to create fortifications or cross-ditched by Confederates to prevent its use as a military thoroughfare, and telegraph poles along the Telegraph Road/Sunken Road extended, at the base of Willis Hill. A group of Confederate personnel and/or their horses may appear in this detail as well—a possible example of the ironic, cross-river documenting at Fredericksburg by Northern photographers of non-prisoner Southern troops:

Detail from Unknown photographer, [View of a City Across Fields], 1861-1865. Albumen silver print, 7.25 x 17 in. Civil War Collection, The Photography Collections, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), (P76-05-065). Annotation by Noel G. Harrison.

A final southward shift, to the left edge of the panoramic photograph, shows much of the rarely pictured area between the southern fringe of the Marye’s Heights combat zone and the northern edge of the Prospect Hill-Deep Run zone of the December battle. Civil War-era landmarks here include Telegraph (“Lee’s) Hill; the Fredericksburg gasworks (scroll down here for a vivid, antebellum portrayal of the gasworks and neighboring structures in color); “Sligo,” the Ferneyhough farm; the area of the abutments of the Hazel Run bridge of the (Confederate-dismantled) Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad; and, beyond the railroad, the valley of that stream winding westward past Howison’s Mill, the southern tip of Willis Hill on Marye’s Heights, and the northern skirts of Lee’s Hill:

Detail from Unknown photographer, [View of a City Across Fields], 1861-1865. Albumen silver print, 7.25 x 17 in. Civil War Collection, The Photography Collections, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), (P76-05-065). Annotation by Noel G. Harrison.

Although the Marye’s Heights-Deep Run zone saw only limited combat during the December battle, a Union defeat, the same place would host on May 3, 1863, just a month or two after the photograph’s creation, dramatic events of a Union victory at the Second Battle of Fredericksburg. Federal artillery, for instance, fired from beside Sligo on the morning of that day. Later in the morning Federal infantry advanced from start positions along and parallel to the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad grade, to the left of Hazel Run in this perspective, to ascend and seize Lee’s Hill and help secure Willis Hill.

Considering the whole photograph, I’m struck most by how the battlefield between the canal ditch/Millrace and Marye’s Heights, often imagined; characterized; or pictured as a sloping plain that hosted only scattered homesteads and an isolated row of homes along the Orange Turnpike/Hanover Street, actually featured two villages of considerable density and prominence in December 1862, especially when those were viewed from the southeast. I here follow the terminology of the commander of the 82nd New York Infantry, whose after-action report for the December battle recounted how his men occupied the “village under the enemy’s works.” My detail below shows the group of structures to which he referred, with the Stratton House appearing on the left, Sisson’s Store (“8” on the map above) in the center, and the George Rowe house (“7” on the map) on the right:

Detail from Unknown photographer, [View of a City Across Fields], 1861-1865. Albumen silver print, 7.25 x 17 in. Civil War Collection, The Photography Collections, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), (P76-05-065). Annotation by Noel G. Harrison.

This detail also helps date the photograph. It includes Stratton’s Wheelwright Shop, a building that would be absent from another Northern photographer’s Fredericksburg image, dated by historian Bob Zeller to April 8, 1863, that included in its background the same area of the village. Obviously then, the photographer made UMBC’s panoramic image before the wheelwright shop’s removal, sometime prior to April 8. And this detail of the UMBC photograph also shows Confederate artillery fortifications, north of the Orange Plank Road, that were extant by December 11, 1862 and perhaps under construction as early as the final week of November 1862. We can therefore eliminate from consideration earlier dates, including during the summer of 1862, when at least one Northern photographer was present and making landscape photographs of Fredericksburg and vicinity but when such fortifications were not yet present.

The seemingly minimal damage and long segments of still-intact/semi-intact fencing tempted me, after an initial glance at the photograph, to consider a date on the eve of the December battle, perhaps as early as that final week of November 1862. Yet the abundance of damage (my red arrows below) on buildings nearer the camera and thus clearer visually, especially on and around the Mason house (“The Sentry Box”) in this additional detail:

Detail from Unknown photographer, [View of a City Across Fields], 1861-1865. Albumen silver print, 7.25 x 17 in. Civil War Collection, The Photography Collections, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), (P76-05-065). Annotation by Noel G. Harrison.

…offers strong evidence that the photograph actually dates to after the December 1862 battle and is contemporary to the well-known, similarly panoramic Fredericksburg images that the Library of Congress dates to February and March 1863 and attributes to James F. Gibson and Timothy H. O’Sullivan, respectively.

I close by noting in the UMBC photograph the second, visually striking village. It clusters astride the Confederate Sunken Road/Stone Wall defensive position of December 1862, and astride another Union-breakthrough site during the battle on May 3, 1863. This, too, was a mini-community, of the unfree as well as the free. Besides the Stephenses, Maryes, and Innises whom the federal census-enumerator had recorded, by name, at this group of buildings two and a half years before the photograph (and spelling the last-named “Ennis”), the village was also home in 1860 to some or all of the 18 enslaved people whom he recorded—but left unnamed—as owned or hired by them:

Detail from Unknown photographer, [View of a City Across Fields], 1861-1865. Albumen silver print, 7.25 x 17 in. Civil War Collection, The Photography Collections, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), (P76-05-065). Annotation by Noel G. Harrison.

Noel G. Harrison

I express special thanks to Beth Saunders, PhD, Curator and Head of Special Collections and Gallery, Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery, University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I also extend gratitude to historian John F. Cummings III for his identification of the Sentry Box in the 1864 photograph, linked above, in the collections of the Library of Congress.

Sources in order of use above and when not linked there—Fredericksburg Alms House location and role as landmark during December battle: John Hennessy, Fredericksburg and Falmouth, 1860; Eric J. Mink, Corporal Edwin Morton Platts—A Boy Soldier Killed at Fredericksburg, Mysteries and Conundrums, September 24, 2018; Jennings House location and role as landmark during December battle: Noel G. Harrison, Fredericksburg Civil War Sites, Volume Two (Lynchburg, Va. 1995): 182-185, 292; brickyard north of Unfinished Railroad location and role as landmark during December battle: Hennessy, Fredericksburg and Falmouth, 1860; Francis Augustín O’Reilly, The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock (Baton Rouge, La., 2010), pp. 254, 329, 366; locations of landmarks at left (south) edge of photograph: Noel G. Harrison, A Rarely Seen Panorama of Fredericksburg, and the Pictorial Legacy of Henri Lovie, Mysteries and Conundrums, August 15, 2019; Hennessy, Fredericksburg and Falmouth, 1860; segment of Confederate-dismantled RF&P railroad south of Fredericksburg: Noel G. Harrison, Fredericksburg Civil War Sites, Volume One (Lynchburg, Va. 1995): 27, 157; “village” mentioned in report of 82nd New York Infantry: Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Ser. I (hereinafter OR), 21: 276; wheelwright shop absent from April 8, 1863 photo: Bob Zeller, The Blue and Gray in Black and White: A History of Civil War Photography (Westport, Conn. and London, 2005), p. 92; Confederate artillery fortifications north of Orange Plank Road extant by December 11, 1862, possibly as early as last week of November: Noel G. Harrison, A Tour of Civil War Sites on the University of Mary Washington Central Grounds (Fredericksburg, Va.), 2014, pp. 6, 28; OR, 21: 613, 620; federal census-enumerator visits the Stephens, Innis, and Marye houses, 1860: Harrison, Fredericksburg Civil War Sites, Volume Two: 125, 127, 141-142.

14 thoughts on “A Previously Unidentified, Panoramic Photograph of the Fredericksburg Battlefield, c. February or March 1863

  1. I suggest the photographer is Timothy H. O’Sullivan. Gardner places the photographer at Hooker’s headquarters in February 1863 as a “Superintendent of the Field or Map work for the Army of the Potomac.”
    See. NARA, RG 56, Department of Treasury, Entry 210, Applications for Positions Treasury Offices: File O.Sullivan, Timothy [as written], recommendation letter from Alexander Gardner October 23, 1880.
    Gardner’s Sketch Book plate 30, “Fredericksburg, Virginia,” his famous view of the mill and ruined railroad bridge is dated February 1863.
    “Fredericksburg, Virginia” is among his first large-format views using a Harrison Globe wide-angle lens (patented in 1862). The panorama is formed from photographs printed from three 8 x 10-inch glass plate negatives the format he used throughout the war.

  2. Your interpretation and notation help me to better see this as
    as a *real* place where Americans who were real people, just like today, fought and died. Thank you. I will remember them this coming Memorial Day — blue and grey, and the unfortunates caught in the middle of it all.

  3. Mr. Harrison, your work is spot on. It is extremely significant and confirms the analysis I provided to the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation Inc. (HFFI) marker committee on Feb 2017. After the initial research provided, the marker committee failed to agree with your documented research you and Mr. Mink provided me. Respectfully, an officially, the National Park Service (NPS) ought to notify the marker committee of

    In early Feb 2017, I respectfully informed the HFFI staff that their study was inaccurate while attempting to get the house marker changed. However, I did receive a small, documented response by the Research Committee on 21 Feb 2017) who made the conclusion that the Jennings house was not moved but destroyed (burned) in 1862. It’s time the status quo changes to reflect the truth and address the significance of the Jennings house and its history! It should also be part of Trolley Tours of Fredericksburg. I asked for feedback regarding the 2017 findings but that fell on deaf ears. So, I look forward to everyone’s exchange concerning the facts that will result in a fuller understanding of the true complexity and significance of the Jennings house.

    Findings reveal the owner of the Jennings house was the City of Fredericksburg’s dray service business owner and one of Virginia’s most prominent and wealthy business merchants Alexander K. Phillips.The Jennings house history was in fact covered up in “a political sleight of hand” move by dray service to the cities most western boundary property in order to avoid paying back taxes after several years of war. I submitted document drawings, history, and photography to produce a comprehensive and accurate assessment of the house at 1000 Lafayette Boulevard (Lot 41) which I proved was built many years prior to the date named in the original HFFI research. The notation of burning in 1862 is incorrect.

    I thank you for your posting of Mysteries & Conundrums Exploring the Civil War-era landscape in the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania region. “A Previously Unidentified, Panoramic Photograph of the Fredericksburg Battlefield, c. February or March 1863” that validates the findings. You may post or share the letters I provided to your colleagues or historians. “Transparency” is everyone’s responsibility under law to share accurate information that is needed to make informed decisions and hold those accountable for the conduct of business.

    Pete Brannon
    Owner of the Jennings House.

    • Mr. Brannon, Thank you for the read and comment. My goals with the article were limited to making a case for identifying the overall subject of a previously unidentified Civil War photograph as the town of Fredericksburg, and for a certain date-range for the creation of the image. It of course shows dozens of individual buildings. For the interpretation of the history of any particular one, I leave, in the words of the Introduction to my 1995 Fredericksburg Civil War Sites book, final judgement to the readers.

  4. Hi, I know this is off topic from this article and I apologize, I just don’t know how to contact anybody that runs this blog, but I just discovered this blog a few weeks ago and in reading a pervious post I read the note at the end and was curious if the “full account” has ever been written?

    The Battle of Arby’s–A Bloody Barricade Saves the Bridge at Falmouth
    APRIL 24, 2012

    [A note on sources: I have collected nearly two dozen accounts of the fight at the barricade and the Union advance on Falmouth–Confederate and Union, many from newspapers at the time. Those sources include many details not shared here, for this is not intended to be a full accounting, but rather merely enough to locate the incident and highlight its significant. At some point down the road, I’ll write (probably for a different medium) a full account using all the source material at hand. In the meantime, if you have questions, or if you know of something we do not, we’d be glad to know.]

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