Saturday, April 6, 2013

Zooming in on USCT Soldiers in Petersburg's Earthworks

Having lived in Petersburg, Virginia, for a few years, I found the above image from the Library of Congress especially intriguing - not only for its location, but also its subject. It shows an earthwork position along the Petersburg Union line manned by United States Colored Troops. The photograph, as it appears above, makes it difficult to see much detail, but when individual parts are enlarged, it almost comes to life with new scenes.

Most trees in the scene have been cut for building the earthwork fortifications and for fuel, however one dominant tree in this image remains, probably to afford shade, as it seems most of the soldiers have congregated under its cover.

In almost the direct center of the photograph a soldier sits while taking a drink from his canteen. I appears that he and a comrade are on a rubber blanket to avoid the dirt and dust. The soldier drinking from the canteen has on a regulation forage cap and army blouse, while his fellow soldier appears to have taken off his coat in favor of shirt sleeves.

Just to the right of the canteen soldier is a group of men at rest. Some are sitting and some are lounging about in different positions. However, they all appear to be on planks rather than siting directly on the ground. Four of the soldiers have army regulation caps, while the top figure wears a slouch hat, and one man is bear-headed. One man has his trouser legs stuffed in his socks and all have on army coats except the bare-headed soldier who is in a light shirt and suspenders.

While the soldiers in the foreground rest and lounge about, a group in the background seem to be drilling to prepare to resist a potential attack. All of the soldiers at drill have their rifles and fixed bayonets, as well their accouterments such as cartridge boxes. And, while some of the soldiers in the foreground are in various stages of dress, the soldiers on top of the earthwork are fully uniformed.

A couple of soldiers in the right foreground seem to be worn out. Perhaps they have just returned from a night's duty on the picket line. One is on his stomach on a plank, seemingly deep in sleep, while another is on his back and uses his right arm to shield his eyes from the sunlight.

Just above the "canteen soldier" is a white man; possibly a company officer. It is difficult to tell for sure as he does not have a military coat on, but he appears to the be the only white man in the photograph.

While the soldiers on the earthwork drill with their weapons, those soldiers in the foreground have their rifles neatly stacked nearby.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress. The downloadable TIFF file can be found here.

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