Remembering James Clarey on Memorial Day

From Mink:

Part of working at a Civil War battlefield is being a steward of history. Not only are we stewards of the battlefields themselves, the monuments and historic buildings, but we also are stewards of the memory of those who participated in the events that the battlefields seek to interpret and commemorate. At the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park (FRSP), perhaps there is no one place within the park where that memorialization is more evident than in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. On this Memorial Day, we thought we’d share with you an event that for many on the park staff brought home this notion of stewardship of the battlefields and the memory of the men who fell upon them.

On September 18, 2003, Hurricane Isabel came ashore in North Carolina, passed through Virginia, and left a path of destruction in its wake. FRSP was hit hard by the heavy winds and rain. Fortunately, the historic buildings, such as Chatham and Ellwood, escaped with only very minor wind damage. Most of Isabel’s impact was felt in over a thousand downed and uprooted trees throughout the park.

In the Fredericksburg National Cemetery, a large tree blew down and the root throw opened a three-foot deep hole over Graves #1650 and #1651. Park staff was unsure whether the burials in those graves had been disturbed. We called our National Park Service archaeologists. Fredericksburg was not the only park dealing with potential disturbance of archaeological sites, as the regional support office fielded calls from many parks in Virginia and North Carolina. Since no human bones were visible at the two graves, park staff was instructed to use hoses to wash the dirt off the tree’s root mass, thus exposing any bones, if they were present. If bones were discovered, we were to stop and immediately call the archaeologist and he would drive down from Philadelphia as soon as he could.

The process of examining the root mass began with sweeping a metal detector over thecompacted earth and roots. Six large (3”) cut nails and one unidentified iron fragment were found. If the remains of the two soldiers had been interred in coffins or boxes, the nails suggested that the burials had indeed been disturbed.

Washing a root mass, compacted with rocky Virginia clay, using a garden hose is not an easy task. As the day wore on, we began shaking the roots to help loosen the clay. I reached for a root, shook it and immediately realized I was not holding something made of wood. I was holding  a tibia, a bone that forms part of the human leg. All work immediately stopped. A call was placed to Philadelphia and our regional archaeologist said he would be at the cemetery the following day.

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The Many Stories of the Upper Pontoon Crossing (Part Four: Changing a Battlefield, in Art…and in the Dirt)

From: Harrison

I’d like to offer a (long-delayed) conclusion to my discussion of the Upper Pontoon Crossing by considering how a particular Civil War site becomes obscured or altered through changes in art and also on the land.  At the pontoon crossing such changes, while subtle or rarely noticed today, nonetheless represent early, or underlying, stages of ways through which our perceptions of a historic place could shift markedly or even come into conflict.

(This blog and its sister blog, Fredericksburg Remembered, have recently explored two dramatic and “matured” examples of other types of processes leading to altered or contested understandings of Civil War-era sites: the Fredericksburg “Slave-Auction Block,” with narratives coming to be woven around a particular artifact; and the treatment given Union wounded in front of the Sunken Road and Stone Wall in December 1862, with some narratives coming to overshadow others and inspire postwar sculpture and other artforms.)

My previous three posts on the Upper Pontoon Crossing included discussions of wartime topography.  A quick review:  in the wake of the Federal army’s cross-river assault and bridge-building there in December 1862, major landscape features on the Fredericksburg side of the Rappahannock included Sophia Street, the ruins of the Scott Tenement, the probable (crescent-shaped) outline of the Union bridge-stockade’s foundation, and the lane that extended Hawke Street down to the river’s edge.  I annotated those features on a photograph of the pontoon crossing, taken during a flag-of-truce exchange sometime after the December battle:

Let’s now consider a few of the changes occurring at the site following the battle, beginning with changes made through art.  My first post on the pontoon crossing included this pre-battle Harper’s Weekly woodcut depicting the Federal blockhouse and stockade, built in the late-spring or summer of 1862:

The pair of structures had disappeared by the time of the photograph taken after the December 1862 battle.  But were the two structures present at the battle’s onset, on December 11?  If so, the stockade and blockhouse, while small, would have been key elements of the local terrain, offering clear fields-of-fire and tempting fortifications to the Confederates who opposed the Federals’ crossing efforts–tempting, I’m guessing, no matter how illusory the structures’ protection ultimately proved in the face of concentrated artillery fire.  The stockade and blockhouse, if those survived the bombardment, would next have offered immediate protection to men of the Seventh Michigan Infantry, who ferried over the Rappahannock and then battled up from the water’s edge towards Sophia Street.

Written evidence for the presence of at  least one of the two structures during the battle may include the account of a Pennsylvanian who visited the same area in the wake of the December 11 combat and noted a dead soldier beside a “block-house.”  The Pennsylvanian, however, left unclear whether he referred to the military building on the riverbank or to a civilian building situated somewhere in the vicinity of the crossing and reinforced for defensive purposes by Confederates.
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The Many Stories of the Upper Pontoon Crossing (Part Three: A Question of “When”)

From Harrison: (see here for Part I of this story, and here for Part II)

Returning to the Upper Pontoon Crossing, let’s consider the central mystery of the stereograph, or stereo view, depicting the crowded flag-of-truce exchange:  when did the photographer create the image?  By mid-January 1863, several exchanges were made daily across the Rappahannock at the foot of Hawke Street.  With the practice grown routine, what rendered this particular flag-of-truce crossing unique enough to draw at least 160 people to one side of the river, and a photographer to the other?  However unintentionally and by default, he achieved what could well prove, under still greater magnification, one of the most extensive and complex feats of single-image (stereoscopic, in this case) photographic documentation ever made of the Army of Northern Virginia in the field.  A date could lead us to identification of a sufficiently unusual or appealing event, if not vice versa.

Online, the Library of Congress has made available two images of this particular scene.  Of these, a digital file of a full stereo view (my principal reference for this post and my previous posts here and here) bears an attribution to Timothy O’Sullivan and a date of March 1863.  Yet the Library has also made available online a digitized paper-print of part of a stereo-half of the very same image, which bears no photographer-attribution but does carry a date of May 1863, conveyed in the title “Removing wounded across Rappahannock River after the battle of Chancellorsville—under flag of truce.”

(During the battle, from early morning May 3, 1863 until the afternoon of May 5—more specifically, during the combats often referred to as the “Second Battle of Fredericksburg”—the Federals built and then maintained two pontoon bridges at the foot of Hawke Street, which obviously eliminates May 3-4 and at least part of May 5 as date-candidates for the bridge-less scene in the stereo view.)

Online, the Library of Congress has also posted several portions of a second, different stereo view that a Northern photographer made from virtually the same vantage point utilized for the first view but with the scene shifted slightly downriver, to the southeast, and showing only a few lone pickets along the Fredericksburg bank, in place of the crowd:

The two scenes are similar enough that an initial glance suggests that they were perhaps made the same day.  But a closer examination of both leaves open the possibility of different days, and perhaps even different months, since the wetness of the ground appears to differ where the two images overlap (although far from definitively differing, in my opinion, due to the first image not extending significantly into the area occupied by a puddle in the left-middleground of the second).  Indeed, the Library of Congress dates this second stereo view to February 1863, and attributes it also to O’Sullivan.
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The Many Stories of the Upper Pontoon Crossing (Part Two: 160’s a Crowd)

From Harrison:  (To read part 1 of this post, click here)

A bit of explanation before returning to the Fredericksburg Civil War stereograph, or stereo view, that captured my imagination in the fall of 2008.  In order to save the “mystery” part of my discussion for the installment following this post, my account now jumps chronologically from the relative calm at the relatively undamaged Upper Pontoon Crossing site, in the spring and summer of 1862, to the relative calm at the heavily damaged version of that same place in the late winter of 1862-1863 and the following spring, skipping for the moment the fighting and destruction in mid-December 1862.

In 2008, while orienting myself to the visually rich, tiff-resolution stereo view by locating landmarks that I had studied in other wartime pictures of the same place, as discussed in Part One, I was struck by the large number of people visible along the town’s edge.  Ultimately, I counted at least 160 different individuals, mainly men.  (This represents a conservative tally because I counted only one person wherever the available resolution left me uncertain as to whether one or two people stood side-by-side.)  The figures fell into four general categories of poses.

…scattered at various lounging spots across the riverbank:

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The Many Stories of the Upper Pontoon Crossing

From Harrison:   (Part One:  Some Background)  Find later parts of this post here, here, and here.

During a fall evening in 2008, I began an intermittent but engrossing journey with a particular Fredericksburg stereograph, or stereo view.  This study eventually led to my publishing an article illustrated with details from the image, in the 2009 edition of the annual journal, Fredericksburg History and Biography.  My exploration continues here, thanks to the blog’s opportunities to post details of the stereo view at still greater magnification, offer a sampler of the numerous Civil War stories grounded in just a few square yards of riverbank, and perhaps inspire your rumination on a remarkable place and an intriguing mystery that surrounds it today.

That night in 2008, I was checking the Library of Congress’ online collection of high-resolution Fredericksburg Civil War images in tiff format.  I sought horizon details that might prove helpful in a future edition of a recently revised tour-guide.  My attention soon wandered from the backgrounds of a number of images to their foregrounds.

In particular, I was drawn to this stereo view depicting the site of the Upper Pontoon Crossing on the town’s Rappahannock riverfront.  A Northern photographer, pointing the twin lenses of his stereoscopic camera south from the foot of Stafford Heights on the Union-controlled side of the river, made the image sometime after the December 1862 battle.

I had seen the stereo view previously (as a half view) but never through the resolution that was now available in 2008.  An examination of the tiff version quickly revealed three landscape features to which I had devoted special attention during earlier research on and writing about the Upper Pontoon Crossing, using other wartime illustrations:  an eroded cut that extended Hawke Street down from its intersection with Sophia Street to the river’s edge, at or near the entrances to various past and future Union pontoon bridges in May 1862 through May 1864 (and May 1865); a crescent-edged depression that perhaps marked the site of a crescent-plan, wooden stockade built earlier by Northern troops; and the ruins of the stone-and-wood Scott tenement house:

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