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 Posted: Sun Oct 26th, 2008 06:43 pm
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Wrap10
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Sometimes, Civil War photographs can be the source of a mystery. For instance, shortly after the battle of Shiloh, a photographer took the time and expense to make the trek to the isolated battlefield, probably by boat, lugged his or her equipment off the boat and up the bluff...and took all of three photographs. To the best of my knowledge, they are the only wartime photographs of Shiloh known to exist. Which when you think about it, is rather astonishing all by itself. The identity of the person who took them is unknown. As is the reason why they only took three photos. Assuming that's all they actually did take.

Two of the photos are nearly identical images of Pittsburg Landing itself, showing several boats crowded along the shoreline. The other image is of the large, 24-pound siege guns located along Grant's Last Line, not far from the landing. So in essence, it could be said that only one photo of the actual battlefield exists that dates to 1862.

Why on earth would someone go the trouble of hauling that all that awkward 19th Century photography equipment to a remote spot like Pittsburg Landing, with the apparent intention of photographing what was at that time the site of the largest, bloodiest battle in American history...and only take three pictures? Something doesn't add up. Did they take more shots that didn't turn out? Did they get lost somewhere along the way? Maybe the camera broke somehow after only three shots? Or did the developing chemicals go bad for some reason? There has to be some explanation. You don't make that trip, with all that equipment, and then only take three pictures of what had just become the war's most famous battlefield.

Anyway, as is often the case with Civil War pictures, you can still pick out some interesting details by studying these three. For instance, in the shots of the landing you can make out several things, including wagons apparently taking supplies off the boats, and what appear to be storage crates piled nearby, with more still on the boats, waiting to be unloaded. You can also see several trees near the river have been cut down, leaving only stumps behind, as well as a small log cabin off to the left. In the background can barely be seen one of the gunboats that took part in the battle on April 6th. You can even make out some of the flag poles on the front of the boats. All in all, a good snapshot of what the landing area looked like around the time of the battle. With a little imagination you can picture the chaos that existed on that very spot on April 6th.

The picture of the siege guns is interesting for several reasons, one of which is that, in the background, you can make out a couple of sibley tents, the kind used by Grant's army prior to the battle. They are probably from W.H.L. Wallace's division, which was camped in this area before the battle. You can also make out what appears to be a small earthwork just behind the siege guns. This might be the source of another mystery, as from what I understand, the only known earthworks thrown up during the battle, and still visible, are a bit further west down the line from where the siege guns were supposed to have been located. Perhaps the one in the picture was built after the battle, but I honestly don't know.

I haven't been able to locate any good online images of these three pictures, but if you have a copy of Larry Daniel's book on the battle, you can see one of the landing pictures as well as two copies of the siege gun picture. One of which is just inside the front cover of the hardback edition.

Perry

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