Sunday, April 28, 2013

Zooming in on USCT Soldiers at Dutch Gap, VA

I stumbled across the above image in the online collection of Civil War photographs located on the Library of Congress' website. I was unable to see much detail in the photograph so I downloaded the TIFF image and found that it appears to be taken at a United States Colored Troops camp near the Dutch Gap Canal on the James River in Virginia, which was just south of Richmond. The Library of Congress only had the photograph labeled as "Dutch Gap, Virginia, Bomb-proof quarters."

Dutch Gap was an engineering project the Union army devised in effort to avoid the formidable Confederate defenses along the James River, which protected Richmond from water-route invasions. The majority of the construction labor came from United States Colored Troops (USCT).

Almost dead-center in the foreground is a ghost-like image of an African American soldier standing on a plank at shoulder arms with fixed bayonet. The ghostly appearance is due to the soldier moving while the picture was being taken. One can clearly "see through" the man. An ax and wheel barrow are directly behind him and a wooden beam runs behind his face and head.

Just to the right of the soldier standing guard (and barely visible in the very top photograph) is a soldier staring directly at the photographer.  He is is wearing a enlisted man's frock coat, the nine buttons of which stand out brightly. He stands just outside the entrance of a bomb proof shelter. Another soldier's right arm and right half of his face is barely discernible behind the featured soldier.

Bomb proofs were dug into banks, trench sides or hillsides by the soldiers to avoid the enemy's heavy artillery blasts. A bright gun barrel and what appears to be another soldier's left hand can be seen at the door of the bomb proof.  A pile of overcoats (or greatcoats as they were called then) are on the right side of this cropped detail.

To the right of the soldier at the bomb proof entrance is a group of three soldiers.  The soldier in the middle moved making it seem there are four soldiers seen here.  All three are looking at the photographer. The soldier on the far right looks to be holding something out in front of him at this waistline. The soldier in the center has his hands in his pockets and is wearing a vest under his frock coat. 

In the right foreground is a white officer. He is wearing knee-high muddy boots and his sword scabbard appears to be mud spattered, too.  He has on an officer's frock coat with shoulder straps and officer's kepi.

In the left foreground is a pile of discarded barrels and wheelbarrows. Two white men, possibly from the engineering or quartermaster department, stand to the right of the pile. One man has his arms folded across his chest and the other is standing on a plank and has his hands crossed in front while wearing gloves.  An African American soldier is seated on the hillside just to the right. Above the seated soldier is the covered entrance to another bomb proof shelter. Directly behind the pile of barrels seems to be yet another bomb proof. This one appears to have a brick chimney.  

A closer detail of the soldier sitting on the hillside shows he appears to be wearing a shell jacket rather than the frock coats worn by his comrades. Perhaps he tailored his coat by removing the skirts, He wears his cap at a jaunty angle.

Zeroing in on the hillside above the camp, one can discern that it is wash day. In almost the very center of the photograph, which the above detail shows, a soldier can be seen on the left side (there might be sergeant stripes on his right arm sleeve) and just to the right of him is another soldier (his face is barely visible by the tree and a black speck on the photograph. The soldier on the left seems to be wearing his coat, while the one hidden mostly by the tree is in his shirt. A clothesline of white shirts are drying to the right of the tree, and buckets are just below the shirts.

Another close-up, this one just the left of the group at the clothesline, shows more soldiers doing laundry. One is shown facing forward looking at the camera in the bottom right, while at least one other has his back turned in the center. A pair of white drawers hang on a grapevine or bush drying in the top left.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress. The TIFF image can be downloaded here.

1 comment:

  1. The man sitting is prob wearing a cut down frock.