Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Zooming in on USCTs at Fort Harrison

Following fierce combat during Gen. Grant's Fifth Offensive north of the James River, a number of the United States Colored Troops, who had battled at New Market Heights and Fort Gilmer on September 29, 1864, and then held off a determined Confederate counterattack on September 30, settled into garrison duty in captured Fort Harrison. Renamed Fort Burham by its new occupants, the black troops, who became part of the XXV Corps during the winter of 1864-65, held the position until they pushed into Richmond on April 3.

The photographer probably unknowingly captured a number of things happening in this image. This photograph  provides some impressive scenes of men at rest in the fort, while others are on picket duty in rifle pits in the background.

In the left center stand two soldiers. The one at the left rear is standing still and appears to be wearing an oversize fatigue blouse. The one on the right front has his hands in his pockets and moved, which blurred his image. He seems to be wearing a shell jacket, as it only comes to his waist.

Behind the main structure are a couple of rows of canvas-topped winter quarters. Standing behind one of the quarters are four men. One without a jacket stands on the stick chimney getting a good view, while two others stand on the ground to left and right sides of the chimney. Another soldier looks toward them.

In the background near the tree line is a line of rifle pits. Several black soldiers man the pits as another stands to the right. 

In the far distance the Confederate obstacles and earthen fortifications can be seen. In addition, a Confederate sentry appears to be standing on the rampart in the center. How many Civil War photographs show belligerents in the same view? Not many that I've seen.

A group of three soldiers stand beside or sit on what appears to be a hitching rail. I would guess that the structure behind the men served as the regimental or brigade officers' headquarters. All seem to be enlisted men, as no NCO insignia are visible and all appear to be aware that their photograph is being taken. 

While one common soldier punishment was to ride a rail for a set period, this man only appears to be using it as a temporary place to rest and chat.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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