Thursday, February 15, 2018

Antietam Then & Now: Exploring site of 1891 Gould photo

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In September 1891, 10th Maine veteran John Mead Gould and his son, Oliver, traveled to Sharpsburg, Md., to photograph the Antietam battlefield. Keenly interested in documenting where his regiment fought, the 51-year-old former Maine officer had his son photograph sites in the East Woods, including where Union General Joseph Mansfield was mortally wounded. In all, the Goulds may have documented dozens of spots at Antietam, but only seven of the photographs have surfaced. In January, I was fortunate to acquire six of them.

War-time image of John Mead Gould
(Courtesy Nicholas Picerno)
On a beautiful February afternoon, Stephen Recker, author of Rare Images of Antietam, joined me, Antietam expert Tom Clemens, preeminent 10th Maine collector Nicholas Picerno and battlefield guide Gary Rohrer to match up five of my Gould images to present-day sites. (A sixth site, on private land, was inaccessible.)

For Civil War photo nerds, it was nirvana -- sort of like getting a double helping of your favorite dessert or watching the Patriots lose in the Super Bowl.  (Sorry, I couldn't help myself.)

Of the photographs we matched up, the image of the Smoketown Road and the unheralded Samuel Poffenberger "10-acre Cornfield" is my favorite. By using the slider, you may toggle from Gould's 1891 view to a present-day image that I shot there.

What's really cool about my six Gould images -- the cherry on top of the sundae, if you will -- is his detailed descriptions in his own handwriting on the reverse of each photograph. That's gold for a historian. Regarding the Smoketown Road image,  Gould wrote:
"The 10th Maine crossed the Smoketown Road (as well as I can tell) about where the small bush is growing to the right of the mulberry tree. We came to 'front' here east of the road, then advanced down & up the gentle slope & deployed about in the shadow of the tree on the extreme right."
In the video, Recker explains the significance of the Smoketown Road photograph -- a unique window into the state of  Antietam in 1891, four years before the War Department added avenues for tourists.

Stephen Recker, author of Rare Images of Antietam, shows the reverse (below closeup) of the
 framed Gould image of Smoketown Road on the site where the photo was taken on Sept. 21, 1891.
Veteran John Mead Gould's handwritten description of the Smoketown Road photograph.
 (Blogger's collection)

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

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