Understanding Spotsylvania’s Bloody Angle: an Old Collaboration and a New Blog


from: Harrison

The team of writer and activist Mary Johnston and artist N. C. Wyeth offers a fascinating case study of non-veterans collaborating to interpret Civil War battles.

Public domain images of Mary Johnston (Library of Congress) and N. C. Wyeth (Wikimedia Commons).

Recently, I read portions of Johnston’s Wyeth-illustrated novel Cease Firing (Houghton Mifflin, 1912). It occurred to me that this picture in the book, accompanying her account of the May 12, 1864, fighting at Spotsylvania’s Bloody Angle, may now be the least known of its nationally circulated and publicized depictions:


(This black-and-white, online version of the artwork is in the public domain; Wyeth’s original painting resides in a private collection but is viewable in low-rez color here. That, by the way, is from a thumbnailed catalog that inventories many of Wyeth’s other historical works, including some of his sketched studies of Civil War soldiers. Wyeth’s Wiki entry is here.)

And Wyeth’s grim vision of the Bloody Angle only hinted at the horrors of Johnston’s, which began with self-narrating stabs by a Confederate’s blade:

The breastwork here was log and earth. Now other bayonets appeared over it, and behind the bayonets blue caps. “I have heard many a fuss,” said the first bayonet thrust, “but never a fuss like this!” “Blood, blood!” said the second. “I am the bloody Past! Just as strong and young as ever I was! More blood!”

The trenches grew slippery with blood. It mixed with the rain and ran in red streamlets. The bayonet point felt first the folds of cloth, then it touched and broke the skin, then it parted the tissues, then it grated against bone, or, passing on, rending muscle and gristle…. Where weapons had been wrested away men clutched with bare hands one anothers’ throats. And all this went on, not among a dozen or even fifty infuriated beings, but among thousands.

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150 years ago today–an iconic image


From John Hennessy:

Today is the 150th anniversary of the iconic photo taken by Timothy O’Sullivan of a group of escaped slaves crossing the Rappahannock at Tinpot Ford near modern Remington. To honor the event, a group of friends including Bud Hall and Craig Swain visited the site this morning. Craig has written about the visit and the photo here.

Setting the Stage for War: A Pictorial Proto-Website from 1856


From: Noel Harrison

A panoramic chromolithograph, View of Fredericksburg, VA, published in 1856 and sampled from time to time on this blog, offers a contemporary database of incredible scope and accuracy as we enter the sesquicentennial of the town’s first Union occupation and first battle.  As orientation for discussing a number of magnified details, here’s a medium-rez look at the picture:

 

What follows is the first in a projected, short series of posts that will review the chromolithograph’s own history; its testimony to the antebellum appearance, development, and self-image of Fredericksburg; and its documentation of the wartime landscape of 1862, six years into the future–little changed in some aspects from the picture of 1856 but altered markedly in others.

Edward Sachse & Co. of Baltimore published View of Fredericksburg, VA in 1856.  Sachse & Co., which had already produced panoramic views of Alexandria and Washington, D.C., as well as of Baltimore, began work on the Fredericksburg picture by dispatching an artist, or artists, to the town.  Judging from John W. Reps’ book, Views and Viewmakers of Urban American, Sachse artist James T. Palmatary was probably responsible for walking Fredericksburg and its outskirts and preparing at least some of the reference sketches in 1855 and/or 1856.  These were then compiled as a master drawing, which back in Baltimore was etched onto smoothed pieces of limestone for printing.

Preparation of the master drawing had involved a key rearrangement of data:  re-picturing the human’s-eye, ground-level drawings of Fredericksburg and its individual buildings from a single, high “bird’s-eye” angle, to show the complete town while maximizing information about individual structures. 

The final perspective for View of Fredericksburg, VA looked across and over the town from a point just across the Rappahannock River and hovering above Stafford Heights, about a half mile from the RF&P Railroad bridge over the river, and a quarter of a mile or so from the farmstead that occupied the site of George Washington’s boyhood home. 

Speaking of which, someone is plowing a field at the former Washington property (known after the Washington era as “Ferry Farm”), while travelers arrive at the adjacent landing of the namesake ferry:

Fast forward from 1856 to December 1862:  artist Alfred Waud positions himself beside the ferry landing to sketch Union bridge-builders under fire at the Middle Pontoon Crossing.  A week later, following the defeated Federals’ retreat across the river, some of them convert “an old cherry-tree” on or near Ferry Farm into “all sorts of crosses, pipes, rings, etc., that can be sent away by mail” as mementoes of George Washington. 

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A new piece of original art


From John Hennessy:

Here is a portion of our latest piece of original art, developed by Frank O’Reilly and executed by artist Mark Churms. This will be used in the new exhibit we are planning for the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center, and also likely on a wayside exhibit atop Marye’s Heights. The image shows guns of the Washington Artillery firing over the Sunken Road, into the killing field beyond. That’s the Stephens House and Innis House at center and left, with the brick Stratton House beyond.  The piece will eventually be made available for sale by Mr. Churms. 

We like it and thought you might be interested to see a little slice of what’s going on hereabouts. 

 

Copyright Mark Churms. All rights reserved.

 

Franklin’s Crossing, June 1863: Gettysburg Act One or Third Fredericksburg?


From: Noel Harrison

In June 1863, Federal troops staged an assault crossing and bridge laying at Franklin’s Crossing on the Rappahannock River, just downstream from Fredericksburg. In later years, the June event would often be classified directly or indirectly as the curtain-raiser of the Gettysburg campaign, including by the compilers of the three-part volume 27 of The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

A Gettysburg context makes perfect sense to people who know the future. Union forces indeed abandoned the Franklin’s bridgehead, occupied from June 5 until June 14, 1863, before it could host or become the springboard to a battle. After Chancellorsville, which had occurred one month before, the next battle to involve the majority of the units of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia was indeed at Gettysburg, in early July. (The opposing mounted forces, with some infantry involvement, fought at Brandy Station on June 9, and a Confederate corps engaged and routed a Union division at and near Winchester on June 13-15.)

The rarely seen image at left (courtesy of the New York Public Library, http://www.nypl.org, in accordance with its policy on non-commercial use of low-rez files) shows the Franklin’s Crossing bridgehead in June 1863, and looks north in a “Confederate’s-eye view” across the site of the June 5 pontoon-borne assault. I based the “June” date on the tree leaf-out that distinguishes the photographs of that month from those made during the Second Fredericksburg operations here a month before, as noted in the work of historian John Kelley. At right, from the collection of the Library of Congress, is a better-known companion view that looks in the opposite direction, an image that Kelly dates specifically to June 7.

(A high-resolution version of the New York Public Library photograph—entitled “View of the Rappahannock, showing pontoon and the enemy’s lines” Image ID: 1150134, in the Library’s Digital Gallery—may be ordered via section 2 of the “Use of Content” guidelines here.)

Yet Union Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker in June 1863 ordered the operation at Franklin’s Crossing not knowing the future but attempting to predict and influence it. As described in this blog post and its second part, he maintained the bridgehead for more than a week as part of successive plans to move the Army of the Potomac southwest or south to fight in east-central Virginia, not north or northwest to fight above the Potomac. (In August 1862 and prior to the Battle of Second Manassas, Union Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter had similarly suggested threatening the lines of supply and communication of enemy troops as they moved northwards, specifically with a Union push from Fredericksburg “toward Hanover, or with a larger force to strike at Orange Court-House.”)

At Franklin’s Crossing in June 1863, the Rappahannock was passed, and combat did occur, unlike the similarly difficult-to-classify “Mud March” of the previous January. Again, a Gettysburg context for the June events at Franklin’s makes sense to some degree, and I certainly don’t reject it, but I seek companion- or alternate interpretation not grounded in hindsight. My offering of another designation, “Third Fredericksburg,” in the title above, emphasizes the perspective of the man whose orders created the bridgehead and formulated an evolving scheme, oriented away from Gettysburg, for the bridgehead’s exploitation. I avoid a parallel discussion of what was known to and planned by his opponent, other than my use of a single quotation from a secondary source, below.

This map by John Hennessy shows the three-bridge configuration at Franklin’s Crossing at the onset of the Second Fredericksburg operations on April 29, 1863, and provides a good orientation to the modern landscape there. The Union pontoon bridges completed on June 6, 1863—just two, though—were situated in the same general location occupied by the three spans a month before.

I have no more desire to inflate Hooker’s plan into a conceptual masterpiece than I do the resulting, intermittently brisk engagement of June 5-14 at Franklin’s Crossing into anything approaching the intensity of the “Second Fredericksburg” component of the Chancellorsville campaign, in late April and early May, much less that of the First Fredericksburg fighting of December 1862. As I suggest below, Hooker’s motivations for establishing the bridgehead in June 1863 may have included adjusting in the present his military reputation of the future. Yet the story of the events of early June 1863 offers an opportunity—surprisingly neglected thus far in historical writing—to better understand the man who had planned and managed Chancellorsville. Hooker, after all, chose Franklin’s for his opening infantry move in June, just as he had done in late April at the outset of Second Fredericksburg.

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High-Ranking Skedaddle: a Previously Unidentified Sketch of Spotsylvania?


From Noel Harrison:

The following sketch appears among the many pictures recently added to the Library of Congress’ digital collections. The Library identifies the artist, Alfred R. Waud, the principal subject, Army of the Potomac commander Maj. Gen. George Meade, and the year, 1864, but neither the location nor the specific date. The sketch probably appears here for the first time in an interpretive venue:

A high-resolution version is here.

Waud’s handwritten caption reads:

Narrow escape of Genl Meade Some cavalry dashing out of the woods suddenly upon the genl & his attendants came very near cutting off Their retreat and making a capture of the party. Prominent near the genl., Col. Michler on a rough track or farm road that wound along the foot of a tree covered knoll out from which came the rebs to cut them off.
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Sketching and Mapping Lincoln’s 1863 Reviews, pt.2: Could Different Theories Each be Right? (Plus, Additional Mysteries)


From Noel Harrison: This blog recently posted
two contemporary depictions of Abraham Lincoln’s Grand Review of
part of the Army of the Potomac on April 8, 1863: a panoramic
sketch by Harpers Weekly special artist Alfred
R. Waud and a map by an unidentified cartographer. These are among
the many new records appearing over the past year or two in the
Library of Congress’ online collections. Here again are
the map and sketch: Each is an extraordinary
document of the April 8 reviewing but is baffling for its apparent
incompatibility with the other, as I described in that earlier
blog-post. And since the time of that post, additional, related
mysteries have suggested themselves. Although the 8th was but one
of four days in April 1863 that saw Lincoln review troops
assembled in complete corps for inspection—at various locations in
Stafford County—it was the only day that saw him review more than
two corps. He reviewed the Second, the Third, the Fifth, and
the Sixth (as well as the army’s artillery reserve). Yet the
editors at Harper’s did not select Waud’s
panoramic sketch of April 8 for conversion to a woodcut.
Instead of focusing on that day’s blockbuster event and Waud’s
breathtaking depiction of it, Harper’s
pictorial reporting on the April review—published in its issue of
May 2, 1863—consisted of two woodcuts based on Waud’s sketches of
smaller spectacles that occurred on other days: the Cavalry Corps
passing in review before the President on April 6 (sketch at top in
John Hennessy’s post here),
and Lincoln and others watching the First Corps pass on April 9
(below):

Reviewing the First Corps on April 9, 1863.
First Corps commander John Reynolds probably bearded figure in
front at far left; next Second Corps commander Darius Couch, with
cigar; then Third Corps commander Daniel Sickles on opposite side
of Lincoln; and then a headless Joseph Hooker. Library of
Congress.

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A Stafford County Photograph and Sketch Give Faces to Wartime Freedom


from: Harrison

How soon after the summer of 1862 did Northern photographers resume documenting the Fredericksburg area’s wartime scenes? Considering this general question led me down an unexpected path to a particular part of a particular month in 1863, and to a certain area of Stafford County. The story I found was one of different artistic media that had converged to record and popularize an iconic tableau of freedom but, ironically, left its date and location unidentified.

(In the current absence of known, outdoor photographs of the Confederate occupation of the area in May 1861-March 1862, a series of views of the Union occupation during the summer of 1862 holds distinction as the earliest-known photographic window onto local wartime landscapes. To my knowledge, no such images verifiably dated to December 1862 have been found.)

An oft-published image of the still-smoking ruins of the Phillips House in Stafford, which caught fire on February 14, 1863, marked an early post-battle resumption of local photography that, thanks to the drama of the blaze and consequent recording by various writers, is dateable to within a day or two:

Yet it’s hard to imagine that the lapse in photo-documentation of outdoor scenes in the Fredericksburg area continued through an event as attention-grabbing as the December 1862 battle. After the summer of 1862, did the camera lenses really remain uncapped until mid-February 1863?

Previously, I devoted a series of posts to another candidate for the distinction of earliest post-battle photograph of a local landscape: a stereograph depicting a flag-of-truce exchange, amid no less than 160 spectators, on the Fredericksburg riverfront. Although I would be delighted if this image turned out to document the post-battle truce crossings there on December 17-18, 1862, my current suspicion is that the actual date will prove to be sometime in February or March 1863, the date-range of other photographs of the riverfront and vicinity, and when truce-crossings also occurred.

In an article published in the journal Fredericksburg History and Biography, I considered a third photograph as the area’s earliest outdoor-view following the December battle. Let’s revisit that image in order to update research, and to take advantage of the opportunities for higher-resolution analysis of pictures afforded by this blog.

In its issue for January 31, 1863, Harper’s Weekly devoted an entire page to a woodcut-illustration (below left) of formerly enslaved people. The caption titled the woodcut “CONTRABANDS COMING INTO CAMP IN CONSEQUENCE OF THE PROCLAMATION.” Harper’s noted that the woodcut was based upon a sketch (below right) by special artist Alfred R. Waud, bearing his manuscript caption, “An arrival in Camp—under the Proclamation of Emancipation.” On a separate page in the same issue of Harper’s, Waud noted that the picture was intended to document the “beginning of the effect of the President’s Proclamation of Freedom”—the Emancipation Proclamation that Abraham Lincoln signed and issued on January 1, 1863:


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An Artwork Both Breathtaking and Baffling: Alfred Waud Takes the Long View in Stafford County


from: Harrison

The many striking works of Harper’s Weekly special artist Alfred R. Waud include this sketch of one of the Army of the Potomac’s Stafford County reviews in 1863.  The sketch’s appearance on this blog probably represents its first-ever publication in an interpretive venue:

(Higher-resolution versions are available here.)

The scope of Waud’s extraordinary picture, and its identification of the reviewed troops as the “Infantry of the Army of the Potomac” generally, suggest that his subject was the largest of the reviews, held on April 8 under the gaze of President Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln may be astride the horse slightly advanced from all the others on the rise at lower left.

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Edwin Forbes Leaves Us a Colorful Stafford County Mystery, in Black-and-White


From Noel Harrison:

For me, few eyewitness artworks better match the written accounts of the bleakness and tedium of Civil War life than this sketch by special artist Edwin Forbes:


His drawing depicts one and perhaps two brush shelters, and occupants, of a Federal picket station situated in Stafford County on Potomac Creek, somewhere upstream from its gorge crossed by the famous “Beanpoles and Cornstalks” railroad bridge.

It’s March 13, 1863. In a diary entry for that day, a soldier in one of the regimental camps guarded by the picket line noted, “A little snow this morning—some clouds—clear this evening.”

On the one hand, Forbes accurately captures the eternal, overarching reality of soldier life: the “wait” part of “hurry up and wait.” The sketch’s undistinguished setting, moreover, characterized the terrain along at least a third of the length of the picket line that surrounded the Army of the Potomac’s camps in southern Stafford in November 1862-June 1863. Much of the line extended between low, brushy hills north and west of the Rappahannock, far from the diverting vistas (and banter with enemy pickets) that duty along the river and its high bluffs afforded.
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