Friday, July 20, 2018

Zooming in on a City Point Scene

In one my recent readings I came across the above photograph, which is located in the collections of the Library of Congress. I found the scene intriguing having just read so much about Civil War logistics. And, wondering what I might find by manipulating the image by zooming in, I downloaded the TIFF file. As I suspected there are some fascinating things to see in this particular photograph, so I thought I'd share several things that caught my eye.

The soldier figure standing on the hillside at the left of the photograph appears to be holding quite an awkward pose. Perhaps he is aware that a moving figure blurred with period photography. He appears to be a young man, although it is difficult to be sure with his hat pulled so low. His ill-fitting army trousers look to be catching a strong breeze from behind.

Just to the right of the awkward soldier are stacked boxes covered with canvas tarps. Most likely these are hardtack or army bread boxes, covered up to protect them from the elements and awaiting disbursement. City Point (present day Hopewell, Virginia) at the confluence of the Appomattox and James Rivers served as the Army of the Potomac's supply base during the Petersburg Campaign. Millions of rations were stockpiled at City Point over the 292-day campaign for the nourishment of the soldiers.

Dominating the photo's scene is a large group of "contraband" workers. It appears the men are in the process of grading a railroad bed. In the mid-ground portion of the image shown above, halved logs are laying on the ground as railroad ties awaiting rails. A large pile logs to be used for similar purposes are in the background. Former area slaves provided a deep pool of labor for the Union army. Most of these men were well acquainted with a hard day's work, but many now received wages for their labors.

Also in this portion of the shot is a white Union soldier holding a rifle with fixed bayonet on his right shoulder. Another white man, perhaps an army engineer overseeing the work, holds his hat in his right hand over his head.

A close-up of of one of the groups of men shows a diversity of hats and braces (suspenders). Shovels appear to be the predominate tool for the task at hand. It is difficult to tell what time of year this photograph was taken, but almost all of the workers are not wearing jackets, which leads one to believe this is likely during the warmer months of the year.

The three men in the most foreground look to be leveling out the ground with shovels. The man closest to the camera wears what appear to be army boots. His right shirtsleeve looks torn and the crown of his hat is caved in. The man opposite him seems to be taking a short breather by resting one hand on his right thigh and shovel and the other hand on his left knee.

The resting man has some sort of improvised protection on both hands. These make-shift gloves or mittens look to have thumb holes for grasping implements but are open on the backs of the hands, protecting only the palms.

A couple of picks are in the most foreground of the image. They rest beside some stones and rip-rap, which implies they were used for breaking the rock to make gravel that might have served as a road bed material for the wooden railroad ties.

On the far right of the photograph are two six-mule team army supply wagons. Thousands of wagons like these two helped move, supply, equip, and feed the army. Unfortunately, the teamsters are not shown with the teams in this photograph. 

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