Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Seven Pines battlefield: Amazing details in June 1862 images

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In June 1862, Federal soldiers gathered near earthworks in Casey's Redoubt on the Seven Pines battlefield in Virginia for an image taken by George Barnard, one of Mathew Brady's photographers in the field. As noted several times on my blog, remarkable details appear in Civil War glass-plate images, which may be found in downloadble TIFF format on the excellent Library of Congress web site. See these Antietam images taken by Alexander Gardner in September 1862 -- check out pieces of hardtack in the photo at the bottom of this post -- and this image taken by Brady's photographers in Fredericksburg, Va., in May 1864.

In the foreground of Barnard's image, a 32-pounder field howitzer points toward Rebel lines about a mile away. On May 31-June 1, 1862, the two armies fought to a draw here at the Battle of Seven Pines (or Fair Oaks), resulting in more than 11,000 casualties. Richmond, the Rebel capital, was only eight miles away . ...


... in this cropped enlargement of the original, at least seven Union soldiers stare intently at Barnard's bulky camera ...


;... and these Yankees doze near them. The soldier at right uses an ammunition crate and what appears to be a rolled-up blanket to catch a few winks while an artilleryman, a sword in a scabbard at his side, rests on the ground near him. ...


... two pick axes, a shovel and a musket lay on the ground in front of these soldiers ...



... and look behind these three men. There's a large group of soldiers, muskets on their shoulders. ...


... in many accounts, soldiers recalled the two battlefield landmarks that appear in the middle distance of the image. The "Twin Houses," built along the Williamsburg Road, were used as a hospital by both armies and as Union headquarters.

"I had the privilege of being one of the first Union Surgeons to enter the Twin Houses of Fair Oaks used as a hospital by the rebels," a doctor noted months later. "Some sick belonging to our army were there at the time of the commencement of the battle and remained there. From them I learned that the Confederate Surgeons treated them most kindly and gave them the only medicine they had -- a little whiskey."

Obliterated by post-war development, the scene in the photograph is unrecognizable today, and the Twin Houses have long since been torn down.


... in the left distance of Barnard's photograph, horses and soldiers gather in the shade of a stand of trees. ...



... Barnard also shot this image at Seven Pines. It shows the other side of the Twin Houses ...



... the redoubt featured prominently in Barnard's first image appears in the background in this enlargement of his second image. ...



... while in another enlargement of the original image, Union soldiers gather at the Twin House at right. One of them peers into the window of the house, perhaps still in use as a hospital. ...



... but the most interesting, and sobering, detail of Barnard's image is this cropped enlargement of the foreground, which shows fresh graves of soldiers who died at Seven Pines. According to the image caption, more than 400 soldiers were buried in this field. Below, an illustration from the 103rd Pennsylvania regimental history shows burial crews interring bodies and dead horses burning near the Twin Houses. How many of these Yankees were disinterred after the war and reburied in Seven Pines National Cemetery is unknown.


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