The Canal-Boat Bridge (part 3): a Rare Sketch by an Iron Brigade Soldier, and the Editorial Bombardment that Transformed It

from: Harrison

In the late fall of 1862, as the opposing armies converged on Fredericksburg, editors in distant offices scrambled for background material on the town. The staff of Harper’s Weekly dug into a small, unused archive of eyewitness sketches made during the previous spring and summer, and from those created a montage that appeared in the issue of December 6, 1862, five days prior to the opening of the battle and the artillery bombardment of the town:

While researching an earlier blog post, I had learned of the spring/summer origins of the December 6 montage, and that most of its component woodcuts were based on (presumably lost) sketches by Henry Didiot, a soldier in the Sixth Wisconsin Infantry of the famed Iron Brigade. Not long after his sketching at Fredericksburg, Didiot fell at the Battle of Brawner’s Farm on August 28, 1862.

The woodcut montage of his sketches published posthumously on December 6 included a fairly nondescript picture, below, of “Wrecks of Steamers burned by the Rebels.” The view looks east across the Rappahannock River where it widens into Fredericksburg’s small harbor, and from the town wharves towards Ferry Farm and its namesake ferry landing in Stafford County. (The Ferry Farm buildings at center-right horizon postdated and occupied the general area of the site of George Washington’s boyhood home, which was itself in ruins by the 1830’s.)

Until last night, when I spotted the sketch, below, on the website of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, I was unaware that any of Didiot’s original drawings had survived. Equally important, the sketch offers a contrast that shows how Harper’s editors had subjected it to a fairly severe artistic bombardment when creating “Wrecks of Steamers”–the woodcut version. Although unattributed on the Museum’s website, the sketch’s original caption—“Canal Boat Bridge across the Rappahannock,” “Built by Co I 6th Reg. Wis. Vol./ in one day…Sketched by Henry [illegible]…”— and basic design clearly connect it to Didiot and, in turn, to the heavily modified woodcut.

In accordance with the Museum’s posted policy on fair-use of materials in educational, non-profit venues, I include the sketch here, at the same magnification made available by the Museum online:

Credit: WWW.MFA.ORG. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Maxim Karolik for the M. and M. Karolik Collection of American Watercolors and Drawings, 1800–1875. Accession number: 55.840.


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Beyond the slave crossing image: the rest of the scene at Rappahannock Bridge–an army in motion amidst dust, August 19, 1862

From John Hennessy:

We have spent a fair number of pixels looking (deservedly) at the two great images taken by Timothy O’Sullivan of fugitive slaves crossing the Rappahannock River at Cow Ford on August 19, 1862. (Go here for discussion, and here for follow-up.). Often overlooked is that O’Sullivan took at least three other images that day, as John Pope’s Army of Virginia streamed eastward through Culpeper County, retreating before Robert E. Lee’s army. That day, nearly half the army–two full corps–crossed the river on the railroad bridge visible in the background of the slave crossing image. O’Sullivan captured at least part of this historic event in an overlooked but remarkable set of images. Taken together, these images and the slave crossing images clearly demonstrate the nexus between the Union army and freedom in 1862

The three images taken by O’Sullivan appear (from shadows) to be taken at midday. We cannot be certain of the order, but there are hints. Two of the images are taken from the eastern end, looking westward into Culpeper County. Of these, I would guess the image above was taken first. The traffic in the image is fairly light, the background free of ominous dust clouds. It seems to me that this image might capture the initial approach of the army to the bridge–Nathaniel Banks’s Second Corps (later the Twelfth).

To the right, a number of soldiers loiter unaware in timeless poses for young men. On the bridge are the blurred images of wagons.

Based on their profile, they appear to be ambulances (click here for image of ambulances). That would make some sense–the army would likely have sent the sick and wounded back first, and Pope’s army had many in the wake of the Battle of Cedar Mountain, fought ten days before.

The second image shows a bridge busy with traffic.

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The incredible power of a place named Cow Ford

John Hennessy:

This morning I attended, and spoke at, Crossing the Rappahannock: A Pilgrimage to Freedom. The event, put on by the African American Heritage Alliance of Culpeper county, headed by Zann Nelson and Howard Lambert, commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation by visiting the site of the famous August 19, 1862 photograph of slaves crossing the Rappahannock. (We have written about that photograph here and here.) It’s likely that since the war, not a hundred people have been to the site for historical purposes–and maybe not a dozen with knowledge of the site’s association with the famous photograph. In that sense and others, it was an extraordinary morning.

I spoke, as did the indomitable Bud Hall, and Dr. Dianne Swann-Wright (she was the keynote, and rightly so). Everyone did well, but it occurred to me as the morning went on that not a person there would have remembered beyond dinnertime any of the profound thoughts we conveyed if we had been in a banquet hall or lecture room, or in Minnesota or Maryland. What we said assumed true meaning and (I hope) memorability by virtue of where we were. The place–it alone ensured t that anyone who made the journey to the river will never forget their experience.

I’d say that between 300 and 350 people attended, all of them intent on getting close to a historic moment and place that most of them had not known about until a few months ago.

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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.

The exodus begins: John Washington’s greatest journey

From John Hennessy:

[First, a prelude:  In light of the topic of this post, a couple of reminders about this weekend’s To Freedom event.  Join us on Saturday night at 6:30 for “Bearing the Stones,” a community procession down

Bearing of Stones, 6:30 Saturday.

Sophia Street from Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site) to the middle crossing site below city dock, where hundreds, perhaps thousands of slaves crossed in 1862. Then, at 7:30, we will present “10,000 Lights to Freedom,” an interpretive program of music, the words of those who were there, readings, and of course, the illumination of 10,000 lights on the Stafford shore.  For more information on the weekend, click here.

Also, on Sunday at 1:30, I will be tracing a tour along the Trail to Freedom, from the Rappahannock to Aquia Landing–including the site of John Washington’s crossing, described below. This program is being sponsored by Eastern National. There is a fee ($20, to help with the bus), and the tour will last three hours.  You can reserve a seat by calling 540 654-5543.

On Saturday on the hour from 11 till 3, we will be doing walking tours, “A Slave’s World and Beyond,” which includes many sites associated with John Washington.  Meet at Market Square.  These are free, presented by myself, Steward Henderson, and Donald Pfanz of the park staff.]

* * * * * * * *

Chances are, if you have spent much time here or on Fredericksburg Remembered, you have heard a bit about John Washington (see here). Washington was a slave who spent most of his life in bondage in Fredericksburg, and seven years after the war wrote a truly compelling memoir of his experience.  His is an important voice–one of two complete memoirs from a Fredericksburg slave, and by far the best.

Of all the moments narrated in Washington’s remembrance, by far the most vivid–for him and for us his readers–is his passage across the Rappahannock to freedom in April 1862. Washington crossed just hours after the arrival of the Union army at Falmouth; indeed, he may have been the first to do so, the first of more than 10,000 to follow. Because his is one of just two accounts from a slave’s hand that narrates this passage (see the other here), his assumes immense historical significance. He conveys to us what must have been the sentiments of thousands of others.

Washington began his day that Good Friday tending bar at the Shakespeare House hotel on Caroline Street, where today’s Soup and Taco stands (with the best tortilla soup in town).  With the arrival of the Union army (we wrote of Washington’s perception of that here), and while white residents rushed to flee or hide, Washington took to the streets.

The Farmer's Bank building--home of John Washington's owner.He stopped first at his owner’s residence in the Farmer’s Bank building on Princess Anne Street.  Washington is the classic example of a slave who humored those in authority, always taking care that they thought him willing and compliant. In his final act as a slave, he did so again. When he walked in the front door of the bank, his owner, Catherine Taliaffero, was busy packing to head to the country.   “Child,” she said to this 24-year-old man, “you better come and go out in the country With me So as to keep away from the yankees.” Washington replied, “Yes madam,” but asserted that he needed to return the keys to the hotel to the hotelier’s wife. “I will come right back directly,” he said, and then walked out the door never to return as a slave.

From the National Bank building Washington proceeded to the river, likely up to what we know today as the upper crossing site, at the base of Hawke Street.   Continue reading

Looming Yankees: The Union Army Hovers Opposite Fredericksburg–Some Images and Incidents.

From John Hennessy:

After their rebuke at the Battle of Arby’s, the Union army recoiled long enough along the Warrenton Road for the Confederates in Falmouth to both prepare to leave and to burn the bridges in their wake. Soon after dawn, as the Union columns swept down the hill into Falmouth, the Confederates put their plan into action. The Falmouth Bridge went up in flames, as did the Chatham Bridge and the R,F&P bridge farther down. Fredericksburg had never seen such a day.  Some white residents scattered, fearful of the looming Yankees. Some slaves rejoiced at the Yankees’ coming. And a few people ventured out to watch, including diarist Betty Herndon Maury, who left a vivid description of the destruction that day.

I went down to the river, and shall never forget the scene there.  Above were our three bridges, all in a bright blaze from one end to the other, and every few minutes the beams and timbers would splash into the water with a great noise.  Below were two large steamboats, the Virginia and the St. Nicholas, and ten or twelve vessels, all wrapt in flames.  There were two or three rafts dodging in between the burning vessels, containing families coming over to this side with their negroes and horses.

Here are a couple of images that show some of the damage described by Mrs. Maury. The first shows the destroyed ships opposite city dock–drawn in May 1862.

The burned hulks of ships burned by the Confederates on April 1862. The distinctive barn in the background appears in sketches of Washington’s Ferry Farm, which in turn locates this scene as just a few yards downstream from Fredericksburg’s city dock.

This is the only known image that shows the destroyed Falmouth Bridge, burned by the Confederates on April 18. Lumber from the bridge was taken by Union engineer Washington Roebling, who in June built a wire suspension bridge on the abutments of the Chatham Bridge (we wrote about Roebling’s bridge here). Continue reading

The final journey of Captain Edward P. Lawton (part 2)

From John Hennessy (for part 1 of this post, click here):

Col. William W. Teall, who escorted Evelina Lawton across the Rappahannock

Evelina Lawton’s southbound journey from Alexandria with her husband’s corpse had a stunningly empty conclusion. After the train from Aquia Landing  pulled into Falmouth Station (where the Eagles Lodge now stands on Cool Spring Road), the train emptied, leaving her alone in the car with the coffin. Union colonel Teall, the fatherly looking son-in-law of General Sumner, arrived at the station expecting to find two other women bound for Confederate lines. Instead, he found Mrs. Lawton, alone, “attired in deep mourning.” He took her hand, which “she extended with such an air of sadness, even despair.” Teall called for the officer of the day, and soon Mrs. Lawton and the coffin were on the platform, with an honor guard over them. They shortly departed for the Phillips House, Sumner’s headquarters. “She seems so thankful and submissive,” Teall wrote that night. Captain Lawton’s coffin sat in an ambulance on the slope in front of Phillips house.

The Phillips House

It was too late to arrange for a crossing that day, so Teall made arrangements for the following morning–determined, he told his wife, to “place this sorrowing woman on her homeward journey with all the kindness and attention  I should hope you would received were you in her place.”

He summoned 20 men from the 10th New York Infantry, the National Zouaves, as an escort, and summoned an ambulance pulled by four white horses.

“After giving the order to proceed I took my seat beside her & this little procession moved slowly towards the river. Continue reading