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Letters From Readers - September 2007 - Civil War Times

Originally published on Published Online: August 02, 2007 
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More "Sharpshooter" Mystery

The appearance in the July issue of my favorite photograph, the one of a Confederate sharpshooter at Devil's Den, plus the review of William Frassanito's Gettysburg: A Journey in Time, which discussed the posing of that photo and others on the battlefield, has stirred me to seek help in solving what has been a bewildering personal mystery.

As a young touring jazz musician in the 1950s, when I was already a Civil War addict, I used every opportunity while on the road to visit any battlefield I could reach. In 1955 and '56 I made stops at Gettysburg and stood in awe in front of the "sharpshooter" site, as I was already familiar with the heart-wrenching picture. At that time there was a glass-enclosed display case in front of it with two photos, side by side. On the left was the famous one we are all familiar with. Next to it was another, exactly the same except that the body was only skeletal remains and the clothes were rotting and ragged. Lengthy captions told a poignant story. This has been such an important part of my life for 50 years that I can almost remember the exact wording.

According to one caption, Alexander Gardner (Timothy O'Sullivan was not mentioned) had stumbled on the body in a hideaway after the battle and had taken the photo. When he returned four months later for the Gettysburg National Cemetery dedication in November 1863, he wandered again to Devil's Den and other sites while the lengthy speeches were being delivered. Gardner apparently was curious whether the burial parties had found "his" hidden sharpshooter and, when he discovered that they had not, he took the second photo of the skeletal remains. The caption further conjectured that the Confederate had possibly been wounded by a shell burst and, realizing he was trapped and dying, had calmly spread out his rubber blanket, leaned his musket against the rock and had lain down to die.

Needless to say, I was moved beyond words and carried this tale far and wide to friends and fellow history lovers. About a year later, while playing in Washington, D.C., I talked my way up to the top floor of the National Archives building and spent an afternoon going through about 500 original photos from the Brady collection. Each was mounted on a large piece of cardboard, leaving room for comments to be written by researchers around the edges of the photos. Lo and behold, there was my "Unidentified Confederate sharpshooter in Devil's Den," with several comments written around the margins. One, written in what looked like old-fashioned pen-and-ink, stated, "I believe this to be Pvt. Andy Hoge of the 1st Virginia Infantry Regt."

Well, my excitement knew no bounds. For many years I believed I was privy to a wonderful personal relationship with my sharpshooter friend. A musician buddy of mine would even phone me and ask, "Is this the famous Andy Hoge?" As it happened, further research during the 1960s made it clear that the sharpshooter couldn't be Hoge because the 1st Virginia was nowhere near Devil's Den or Little Round Top on July 2. The sharpshooter was probably either a Texan or an Alabamian.

But that wasn't the worst of it. Before long, Frassanito and others had to go out and prove that the dead sharpshooter had been dragged into the hideaway and posed there. I was dismayed but forced to accept that their analysis was probably true. Then, on subsequent visits to Gettysburg in the 1960s and '70s, I found that the second photo on the site's signage was no longer on display, though it was still referenced in the caption. What had happened to it?

On October 8, 1999, I called the senior historian at Gettysburg National Battlefield Park and asked what had happened to the photo of the skeletal remains. He said there was no existing record of any such photo, but informed me that one other person had called to ask the same question.?He said he would do further research and later called to tell me nothing had turned up yet.

I know what I saw. I saw a real picture—50 years before our present-day computer generation could have faked one. And who was the other visitor who reported seeing the same thing? Why would Gardner's claim about the November photo still be part of the 1999 caption? Can anyone out there tell me what happened to this photo?

John T. Williams
Vero Beach, Fla.

Back in the Fold

I have been a Civil War history fanatic for many years but have never written a letter before. I subscribed to Civil War Times in the 1970s and early '80s, but eventually canceled because I felt the articles and writing had fallen off. But today I am writing to praise both the selection of articles and the improved quality of writing and interesting argumentation in the magazine. I just wanted you to know that your audience appreciates it. Keep up the good work.

Richard Holmberg
Minneapolis, Minn.

5 Responses to “Letters From Readers - September 2007 - Civil War Times”

  1. 1
    John Lohan says:

    I was just telling a neighbor the same story about a second photo of the dead soldier at the Devil's Den that I saw nearly 50 years ago. I actually pulled up this web site trying to find that photo to show my neighbor. I have visited Gettysburg so I may have seen the photo then.

  2. 2
    popsiq says:

    Those two photographs were published in a book about the Civil War that I read as a teenager in the mid sixties. I do not recall the title, or other details of the book, but it was a graphic-rich history of that war much like the American Heritage volume.

    Given I was reading it in a Toronto library in 1962-64. it is likely the book was published shortly before that time, it was not an 'old' book when I saw it. Both pictures of the 'devil's den sniper' were included.

    I mentioned this to a Gettysburg tour guide on one of my visits there. Needless to say he had never heard of that second photo..

    A mystery of history, and publishing, too.

  3. 3
    Henry A says:

    I can remember sitting in our sunny living room (early , mid sixties), looking through a large hard bound volume of Civil War history and seeing two photographs of the dead soldier behind the wall at Devil's Den; one being the July 6/7 1863 photo and the other of that soldiers skeletal remains with musket leaning against the stone wall. I was 11–13 years old and knew absolutely nothing about the battle of Gettysburg. I was very surprised to learn years later that the second photo was claimed by the experts to be non-existent. Our home was well stocked with American Heritage books of American history, but I' ve since been unable to find that picture in those of them that remain and think now that it may not have been in one of them that I saw it. This was no confabulation. I saw it and remember it well.

  4. 4
    Henry A says:

    Sorry; conflation not confab.

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