Indians at Brompton


From Eric Mink:

No single site in the Fredericksburg area received more attention from Civil War photographers than “Brompton,” the John L. Marye plantation. Between May 19 and 20, 1864, no fewer than three photographers took nearly a dozen photographs at Brompton. What attracted the photographers were the scenes in the yard, where Union casualties lay waiting for medical attention. Brompton served at that time as a military hospital caring for the wounded and sick of the Union’s 9th Army Corps.

Personally, of all the photographs from this Brompton series, the image that has always intrigued me is one that depicts a small group of wounded soldiers lying beneath a small tree. A member of photographer Matthew Brady’s firm took the photo and it bears the original caption of “Wounded Indians.”

“Wounded Indians”

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A Little-Known…but Well-Known…Photograph of the Second Battle of Fredericksburg


from: Harrison

Note:  For an opportunity to vividly imagine Civil War events at the Fredericksburg Baptist Church, mentioned below—and at other local places of worship as well—I invite you to attend The Churches Remember, a multi-component, free event this Saturday commemorating the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  Note that dramatic readings will occur in the Baptist Church at 7:00 p.m., and that historian George Rable, who has written in-depth about wartime destruction in the Fredericksburg area—the general subject of my post here—with speak earlier in the day: 10:45 at St. George’s Church.

I’d like to take a moment at lunchtime to share the results of some research accomplished over the past two weekends.  Recently, I happened to linger over this familiar view of the ruins of “Mulberry Hill,” the Stafford County home of the Phillips family.  The building had also housed the headquarters of General Ambrose Burnside during the First Battle of Fredericksburg.  The photograph looks southwest from Mulberry Hill across the Chatham estate and across the town.  I could not recall seeing a precise date for this picture in the many books and articles that have carried it:

Courtesy National Archives.

The Phillips House was gutted by fire on February 14, 1863, while the Federals occupied Stafford Heights.  Thus ended the brief but proud reign of what was perhaps the most elaborate example of the Gothic Revival style in residential architecture in antebellum Fredericksburg and immediate environs.  A grim symmetry on the casualty list of local culture was achieved two months later when “Mannsfield,” the most elaborate local example of the Georgian style in residential building, was gutted by fire while in Confederate hands.  (“Idlewild,” just outside town on the opposite side of the river, was Mulberry Hill’s principal antebellum rival among large Gothic homes.)

Army of the Potomac Provost Marshal General Marsena Patrick had known the Phillips House as a picturesque feature on the backdrop of his rides, visits, and camps the previous spring and summer.  The house may be the structure with tall, crossed gables and gable-end windows that appears in the left background of this Edwin Forbes sketch of “Review of Gen. Ord’s division, opposite Fredericksburg, by Maj. Gen. McDow[e]ll and staff” on May 20, 1862:

Courtesy Library of Congress.

(High-rez versions of the sketch are here.)

Marsena Patrick’s diary describes the February 14, 1863 blaze as “quite a sad affair” and repeats a story that some of Maj. Gen. George Stoneman’s staffers had been “trying to get a Sibley Stove to work in the Attic.”  A Northern photographer showed up, possibly on February 15 or 16, 1863, to record the still-smoking ruins, in a destined-to-be-famous stereograph.  Here’s the left-hand view:

Courtesy Library of Congress.

(Standing modestly among the wooden items rescued from the flames, and among the blue-clad gawkers, a telegraph pole attests to the military value of the commanding vista from Mulberry Hill.)


Given that the towering gables and second story of the brick shell visible in the smoking-ruins image had vanished by the time of the photograph I post at the top, I assumed that a considerable period had elapsed between the taking of the two images.  So when was the scene at top photographed?
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A Rare Photograph of USCT’s, and a Case of Conflicting Identification


From:  Harrison 

Note:  for the sequel, or counterpoint, to the pre-Overland Campaign dating of this photograph in one prominent collection, see the comment below by our sharp-eyed reader, Will Hickox, pointing out the post-Overland Campaign identification in another.

On Saturday February 25th, please join park Chief Historian John Hennessy for Bridging the Chasm: A Public Conversation about Freedom, the Civil War, and its Complicated Legacy, a keynote program in the John J. Wright Educational and Cultural Center Museum’s programming for Black History Month.  See the museum’s website for details and directions.      

I’d also like to mark Black History Month by sharing some thoughts on a unique image.  Recently, I came across this photograph in the digitized collections of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University: 

Courtesy of Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

The image, part of the Library’s Mathew B. Brady and Levin Corbin Handy Photographic Studios Collection, bears the penciled caption “near Brandy Station Va 1864 staff 39th Colored Infantry.”  (The photograph appears here in accordance with the Beinecke Library’s policy on noncommercial use of public domain materials.  Additional information about the image accompanies its online version.)

Assuming the accuracy of the caption, this is likely the earliest-known photograph of United States Colored Troops (USCT’s) in the field in northern Virginia—part of the forces that Ulysses S. Grant had concentrated there against Robert E. Lee’s in the spring of 1864.

Detail from photograph above, courtesy of Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

In a perfect historical world, of course, enlisted men would be present in the foreground as well as the background of the photograph.  Yet I’m very grateful for this rare picture; to my knowledge, it’s also the only known outdoor Virginia photograph that shows, at any date prior to the onset of the Overland Campaign, personnel of any of the six full USCT infantry regiments (plus a detachment from a Connecticut “colored” infantry regiment) who would march across the Fredericksburg area battlefields with Brig. Gen. Edward Ferrero’s Fourth Division of the Ninth Army Corps.
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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.

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Gettysburg battlefield photographer visits Spotsylvania County – 1887


From Eric Mink:

Students, historians, and collectors of Civil War battlefield photography are quite familiar with the name William H. Tipton. He was one of the most prolific postwar photographers in Gettysburg, Penn. and his landscape images are quite sought after, as they are wonderful documents in helping understand the sites of that battlefield. Little known, however, is the fact that he lugged his camera to historic sites outside of South Central Penn., including an 1887 visit to the battlefields around Fredericksburg.

On May 5, 1887, a train from Richmond arrived at the Fredericksburg station. Among its passengers were approximately one hundred Union veterans on an excursion to visit Virginia’s battlefields. Most of these men were veterans of the 57th and 59th Massachusetts regiments and they had, prior to their arrival in Fredericksburg, visited the battlefields around Petersburg and Richmond. Their trip brought them to the Fredericksburg area for the same purpose. They spent two days touring the local battlefields and revisiting sites that many of them had not seen since the war. The Fredericksburg Free Lance covered their visit, describing the places they went and even listing the members of the party. Included in that list was “W.H. Tipton, photographer from Gettysburg.” Fortunately for us 125 years later, Tipton wasn’t merely sightseeing, but was capturing on glass those sites that he saw.

Upon arrival in Fredericksburg, the group immediately headed to Spotsylvania Court House. The first site they chose to visit was the “Bloody Angle” at the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield. (This photo complements one that John Hennessy posted a couple weeks ago and can be found here.)

"Bloody Angle Spottsylvania May 5th 1887. Near the stump of tree shot down by bullets; the but of the tree, 15 inches in diameter is in the National Museum in Washington." Typed label pasted on photo mount.

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


From: Noel Harrison

I’ve been thinking about historical context ever since reading the posts by my colleagues (here and here) about the variety of wartime uses of Franklin’s Crossing on the Rappahannock, situated just downstream from Fredericksburg.

My interest today is in one of those uses: the Federals’ assault crossing and bridge-laying at Franklin’s for the third time during the war, in June 1863. Directly or indirectly, the event would be classified as the curtain raiser of the Gettysburg campaign, by the compilers of the three-part volume 27 of the Official Records in 1889 and by most historians.

A Gettysburg context makes perfect sense to people who know the future. The bridgehead established on June 5 was indeed abandoned, early on June 14, 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 units in the two opposing armies was indeed at Gettysburg, in early July. (Their 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 Joseph Hooker ordered the June operation at Franklin’s Crossing not knowing the future but attempting to predict and influence it. More important, he maintained the bridgehead for more than a week as part of two successive plans to move the Army of the Potomac southwest or south to fight in east-central Virginia, not north or northwestward to fight above the Potomac. (Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter in late August 1862 had similarly suggested Fredericksburg as a base from which to threaten the rear areas of the Army of Northern Virginia moving north or northwest, specifically with a Union push “toward Hanover, or with a larger force to strike at Orange Court-House.”)

At Franklin’s 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 makes sense to some degree—and I certainly don’t reject it—but might there be a companion- or alternate context that is not grounded in hindsight? My approach to that question, below, will focus only on what was known, at the time, to the man whose orders created the bridgehead, and (with the exception of a quotation at very bottom) avoid a parallel discussion of what was known to his opponent.

The Franklin’s Crossing operation was the intended first step in an evolving scheme. For the purpose of stating my case, I’ll dub this “Third Fredericksburg.” 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 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.

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.

Yet the story of the June 1863 events offers an opportunity—surprisingly neglected thus far—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 April at the outset of Second Fredericksburg.
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Are these Photographs Our Earliest, Closest Equivalents of “Movies” of Civil War Field Operations?


From: Noel Harrison (and with an Alan Zirkle film awaiting readers who make it to the end)

The antebellum and wartime stories of Stafford County’s Belle Plain area, which in 1864 hosted at least five Union wharves along a two-mile stretch of Potomac Creek, are a source of continual research inspiration. In an article published in the July-August 2000 issue of Military Images magazine, I had the privilege of sharing the discoveries of a friend and mentor, the Belle Plain/White Oak historian and museum-director D. P. Newton. He located the modern-day camera locations of four of the photographs of Confederate prisoners who had clustered in the various “Punch Bowl” ravines near those Belle Plain wharves. Sources in D.P.’s research files, most notably the diary of Union Colonel Theodore Gates, showed that the ravines and wharves hosted more than 7,800 captive Southerners between May 13 and May 23, 1864.

In locating the camera positions, D.P. had accepted a challenge that historian William A. Frassanito issued implicitly in his 1983 classic, Grant and Lee: The Virginia Campaigns 1864-1865—find the sites on a modern landscape that is “densely wooded with numerous hollows.”

A decade after publishing the Military Images article, Belle Plain again captured my imagination when I suddenly noticed that one of D.P.’s site-identified images, shown here alongside a modern near-equivalent that he made around 2000:


…had originated with a glass-plate negative–intended to produce carte de visite photographic prints–that was exposed in a four-lens camera to record four slightly different, sequential scenes:

The plate had recently been posted online, as a digital file, in an intermittently accessible sampler of Civil War photographs in the collection of the National Archives.

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