Monday, June 05, 2017

Cold Harbor Then & Now: Union cavalry at Old Church Hotel

(THEN: Timothy O'Sullivan, Library of Congress | NOW: John Banks, June 5, 2017)

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On June 4, 1864, Union cavalry gathered at Old Church Hotel while their infantry comrades about five miles south down the road in Cold Harbor, Va., dodged fire from Confederates and dug in for an extended standoff. Photographer Timothy O'Sullivan was there to capture the hotel scene, which appears unremarkable at first glance.

One-hundred and fifty-three years and one day later, I dodged nothing but raindrops and busy morning traffic along Old Church Road in an attempt to shoot a present-day image of O'Sullivan's long-ago stereoview. Enhanced by increasing contrast and by using other modern magic (thanks, picmonkey!), cropped enlargements reveal cool details. (The image was analyzed by William Frassanito in his remarkable 1983 book, Grant And Lee: The Virginia Campaigns 1864-1865.)  In need of TLC, the old inn in the hamlet of Old Church is a private residence today.

Two apparently grim-looking cavalry officers, too indistinct to identify, stare at the cameraman from the porch of the Old Church Hotel, used by General Phil Sheridan as his cavalry corps headquarters ...

... while two other soldiers -- one standing and leaning on his saber and another sitting on a railing -- appear among at least two dozen horses in the photo. There was plenty of forage available for the animals in fields in the immediate area, which, unlike much of the vicinity today, remains rural ...

... O'Sullivan's photograph is so sharp the name of the hotel's proprietor -- J.A. Lipscomb -- may easily be read on the large sign in front of the two-story structure. Too bad we can't see anyone peering from the windows or porch on the second floor ...

... but we can easily see these two horses. Or is it three? One apparently is unable to remain still for O'Sullivan, whose camera during the era was unable to easily capture motion. And is that what we think it is at the hind legs of these nags? Ah, fellas, c'mon!

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  1. I can see another pair of legs and shoes belong to a third person in the photo of the horses at the hitching rail.

  2. I wonder what the purpose was of the large box being carried by the soldier leaning on his saber? Maybe he was a messenger?

  3. Thanks for all your wonderfull posts John.

  4. Anonymous10:26 PM

    It looks like an ammo box.

  5. Oh my God it's the church The clocktower Battle Willow Creek is real

  6. What happened to that church

  7. What happened to the church in battle it Willow. Creek