Gettysburg Photo Mystery Far From Resolved
In the October issue my friend Scott Hartwig’s claim to solving a photo mystery is more than simply premature; his proposed location is impossible. Of the more than two dozen locations of this photo proposed by historians and enthusiasts over the years, two were at approximately the same location, and were dismissed long ago by historian William Frassanito, dean of the field of study of photographic research.
The angle of the ridge along the Chambersburg Pike as it meets the woods on Oak Ridge, the fact that the Thompson House, Lee’s headquarters, does not show up in wider versions of Alexander Gardner’s view, that the woods do not match those shown in other photographs taken that same month by Mathew Brady and Frederick Gutekunst, and the orchard that was known to have been in what Scott proposes is the center of one of Gardner’s photos—all this conspires to dismiss this location as even in the realm of possibility.
These facts are not simply to be ignored; they must either be explained or the theory should be scrapped. It’s that simple. In the end, Scott has succeeded only in discovering a battlefield location with terrain that generally matches that in Gardner’s haunting photos—something I have found to be fairly common. By viewing the photos in 3-D, tromping the field and examining contrary evidence, however, any of us still has the chance to solve this mystery. Get out there and give it a shot!
Garry Adelman, V.P.
The Center for Civil War Photography
Scott Hartwig Responds:
I greatly respect Garry’s knowledge of Civil War photography, but I disagree with him on every point. The proposed location is not impossible; in fact, it is highly probable. The treeline he mentions, shown in the Brady and Gutekunst photos, is seen from angles different from where Gardner shot and does not dismiss this as a probable location.
Garry mentions that the Thompson house should be visible, but the area where the house is located is so hazy it is impossible to discern anything there, and a tree also blocks the view to this area. I am not sure what he means by the orchard in the center of the Gardner photograph. There should be an orchard in the far right of the view looking northeast, and it certainly looks like an orchard can be seen.
I Found It Too!
I have long been curious about the location of the Gettysburg images that Scott Hartwig examined, and I also thought the location of Biddle’s Brigade on McPherson’s Ridge was promising. The similarity of the foreground was immediately apparent, and it seemed the pictures might have been taken right on what is now the park road. But when I turned and looked northeast, I could not resolve a number of issues.
The ground did dip and rise gradually, as expected. But from this position the Chambersburg Pike and its fences (however damaged) should be plainly visible. There is a faint line running along the woodline in the picture, but it didn’t seem to be substantial enough to represent the road.
Another issue was Lee’s headquarters at the Thompson House, which should be visible in the photograph. But the biggest problem was the woods, which must be the Railroad Woods. The mature, straight woodline that appears in the picture does not match later views of this woods. Other photos show only a straggling growth of trees between the cut and the road.
I could not convince myself that the woods in the Gardner picture and the known shots of the Railroad Woods, which were taken shortly after the battle, were showing the same woodlot.
Lee and Loyalty
The last line of Gary W. Gallagher’s October column, “Robert E. Lee’s Conflicted Loyalties,” really sums up Lee’s loyalty to the Union. Even though Lee’s father was related to a famous signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his wife was a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, “his loyalties to Virginia and the slave-holding South” were more important, and the mere thought of him and his buddies losing their “free” labor was more than he could handle. Lots of men died because of that decision.
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Thanks for Gary Gallagher’s excellent column on Robert E. Lee’s loyalties. It is amazing how many Confederates had conflicted loyalties. Jefferson Davis was one of the firebrand speakers at the secessionist Nashville Convention of 1850, but he later earned a reputation as a peacemaker between Northern and Southern factions as secretary of war to Franklin Pierce. In 1858, while Davis was on leave from the Senate due to illness, he gave a number of speeches calling for faithfulness to the Union, but warning that events might force Southerners to choose sides. Just months before Davis was chosen to be Confederate president, his name was entered into consideration for the Democratic nomination to be U.S. president.
Even Confederate patriot Nathan Bedford Forrest was described by biographer Robert S. Henry as a “strong Union man” before the war.
Gettysburg’s Best and Worst
After reading “Gettysburg’s Best and Worst Monuments,” in the June issue, I was relieved to know that none of the four heroic bronzes I sculpted for the Gettysburg battlefield were listed in the “Worst” category and then disappointed not to find one of them among the “Best.” But it was a nice surprise to open the August issue and see the photo of my Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial in “Mail Call.” I agree with the comment that so many levels exist to interpret statues. Most important, these monuments serve to commemorate Gettysburg’s history and educate future generations about the sacrifices made by the brave soldiers who fought there.
No Mosby Lover
John Mosby was a brigand. Compare the expensive clothing of his partisans with that of the typical Confederate soldier. The problem was that the CSA’s Partisan Ranger Act of April 1862 authorized Rangers and allowed them to collect “pay for arms and munitions collected or captured.” Meanwhile the U.S. Articles of War stipulated captured stores should be “secured for the service of the United States.”
Due to an editorial error last spring, we mistakenly labeled three issues as Volume 49. Our current masthead now reflects Civil War Times’ correct volume number: 50.
Originally published in the December 2011 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.