Sunday, March 23, 2014

Antietam Up Close: A lone grave on the battlefield

The original of Alexander Gardner's glass-plate image of a lone grave at Antietam.
(Library of Congress collection.)
This haunting photograph of five Yankee soldiers near the lone grave of one of their comrades at Antietam is one of the iconic images of the Civil War. These men, probably part of a burial crew, were photographed by Alexander Gardner on Sept. 19 or 20, 1862, two or three days after the battle. Perhaps the men resting on the ground at left had just completed the arduous task of burying comrades -- maybe they had even recently filled the grave in the foreground -- when Gardner came upon them.

In his ground-breaking book, "Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America's Bloodiest Day," William Frassanito examined this glass-plate image in detail and even discovered the name and background of the soldier whose name appears on the wooden headboard at the fresh grave by the tree: John Marshall, a private in the 28th Pennsylvania. (A version of the image also was used on the cover of Frassanito's book.) While the original of the photograph has been seen in many publications over the years, enlargements of it probably have not. They are revealing. (Click on all images below to enlarge, and click here for the Antietam Up Close series on my blog.)

In an enlargement, this soldier, wearing a slouch hat, carrying a blanket roll and leaning on a musket, seems to stare directly at Gardner's camera ... 

... while these three soldiers appear unaware of the photographer's activities but probably were posed by Gardner.  At first glance, the soldier at the far left appears to be dead, but that's unlikely because he appears fully equipped -- Rebels often stripped Union dead at Antietam of valuables such as shoes -- and doesn't exhibit the bloating typical of a dead man exposed to the elements for days ...

... this young soldier with his musket stares into the distance. Perhaps only a teenager, he was among the lucky survivors of Antietam. Teen-aged soldiers from Connecticut such as this one and this one didn't survive the bloodiest day in American history while others were maimed for life ...

... John Marshall's name and regimental number are barely visible etched on a crude wooden headboard. On the original of the image at the Library of Congress, Marshall's regimental number clearly can be seen under magnification, according to Frassanito. Another piece of wood, perhaps a footboard, appears in this enlargement. From Allegheny City, Pa., across the river from Pittsburgh, Marshall was 50 years old, one of the oldest soldiers in the Union army. (Also killed at Antietam, 8th Connecticut private Peter Mann was 54 years old.) Sometime after the war, Marshall's remains were recovered and re-buried in Antietam National Cemetery under Grave 19 in the Pennsylvania section.


  1. Hi John - FYI, Allegheny City was not really a "suburb" of Pittsburgh. It was in fact a separate city, in 1860 the third largest city in the state behind Pittsburgh and Philly, and the 29th largest in the US with a population of 28,702.


  2. Duly noted....and tweaked. Mind mush.

  3. Anonymous10:49 PM

    Thanks for the great image of a Union soldier with a blanket roll. I've been looking for more of these!