Monday, September 3, 2018

Zooming in on a Confederate Camp Scene

Civil War photographs of Union army camp scenes are so common they often get taken for granted. Confederate camp scenes, though, are more rare. Most of those that do exist come from early in the war. The above photograph comes from the Library of Congress website and shows what is titled "A Confederate picket post near Charleston, S.C., 1861."

The scene appears to be on some body of water, perhaps either the Cooper or Ashley River, or maybe part of the Charleston Harbor. A tree draped in Spanish moss frames the image on the right side. Two groups of men either sit or stand on a raised bank with two "A" frame tents in the background.

In the left group of men, standing on the far left, is what appears to be an enslaved camp servant who holds and ax on his shoulder while looking at the photographer. Perhaps he was detailed to cut some firewood or maybe he was using the back of the ax to drive tent stakes. It is difficult to tell for sure, but it look like he wears a non-military style cap. 

Standing beside the ax man is a corporal. He wears a shell jacket, a military kepi, and stands in a "Napoleonic" pose. His shell jacket had slightly darker colored cuffs. One has to wonder what branch of service this scene shows? Artillery perhaps?

In front of the two standing men are three others either sitting or crouching. Two of them are African American camp servants. The crouching one on the left is hatless and appears to be cooking over the campfire, as a pot hangs above the fire and another is directly in front of him. The other camp servant holds what looks to be a shiny reflecting tin plate while in a crouching position. He wears what looks to be a military shell jacket. 

It is not a surprise that the three black men are shown doing labor-related tasks while the white soldiers are all shown at leisure. A soldier sits between the two crouching servants, leaning back on his left arm, and has what looks to be a cigar or pipe held in his right hand at his mouth. 

In the group of men on the right side of the image a soldier rests on his left side while holding a bottle in his right hand. Like the majority of the other soldiers in this image he wears a military kepi. It appears to have a colored headband.

Between the two groups is a soldier wearing a slouch hat and reading a newspaper, or just peering over the top of the page at the photographer.

Beside the reading and drinking men is a group of three standing soldiers watching a group of four others playing a card game on a spread out blanket. One man, on the left of the group, looks to be giving some type of instructions to what may be a sergeant major. Standing in the center of the group is a tall man with a bushy beard. He holds his hands close together in front of his chest while wearing a shell jacket and sporting his kepi at an extreme jaunty angle. The card playing soldier facing the camera sits cross-legged and wears what looks to be a high-crowned hat. The soldier at the far right kneels while apparently discarding one of his cards.

This photograph gives the viewer great insight into the activities of an early war Confederate camp. So many of the activities shown here are those that are mentioned in many soldiers' letters. Particularly interesting are the roles of the group of camp servants, who did much of the fatigue duty of camp life (cooking, cleaning, laundry, splitting wood, etc.) that soldiers either loathed or perhaps were unused to in pre-war life, depending on their socioeconomic status.  

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