Modern Photography: “On Great Fields, Something Stays” – My Time on Cemetery Ridge

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Emerging Civil War welcomes guest author (and photographer!) Kristen M. Trout

On a warm, beautiful evening in September 2013, I stood on Cemetery Ridge, gazing at the glowing orange sunset over South Mountain. Seminary Ridge, the main position of the Army of Northern Virginia on July 2 and July 3, 1863, stood out just less than a mile to the west. Between Seminary Ridge and I were tall grasses waving in the light wind with the ragged fence lines marking the Emmitsburg Road. Looking around me, cannon and monuments dedicated to the thousands of Federal troops who stood their ground there on July 2 and 3 dotted the landscape. Time seemed to stand still.

With only the sounds of car engines buzzing by and the whispers of intrigued visitors, the fields of Gettysburg is truly one of the most peaceful places on earth. But, in that silence, you could imagine the roaring cannon and muskets, the screams for mercy by the wounded, the “rebel yell” of advancing Confederates, the cheers of Federal troops as they repulsed their attackers, and orders of officers trying to rally their men. It was an awful three days of battle on those fields of Gettysburg in July of 1863.

In that moment of thought and remembrance, I took a stroll along the lines of the Army of the Potomac’s II Army Corps on Cemetery Ridge. Even though it is near impossible to capture those thoughts without being there, I decided to take a series of photographs to document the sights I visited during that evening.

My first stop was at one of the 3-inch ordnance rifles and monument to Lt. Alonzo Cushing’s Battery A, 4th United States Artillery. The 22-year-old West Point graduate and artillery officer stood his ground on July 3, 1863 during the fateful charge of three Confederate divisions under Lt. Gen. James Longstreet. Hit by shell fragments in the shoulder, groin, and abdomen, Cushing continued to command his battery rather than move to the rear. Finally, the grievously wounded lieutenant fell, fatally shot through the mouth, as one of his subordinates held him in his arms. In 2014, the fallen Federal officer received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions.

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From Cushing’s Battery, I moved southwest towards the stone wall, where I arrived at the monument to the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry. Standing atop the granite base is one of the regiment’s soldiers in the “Philadelphia Fire Zouaves” French African-style uniform, swinging his rifle-musket over his right shoulder. The unit sustained heavy casualties on July 3, as they advanced against oncoming Confederates towards that same stone wall during Longstreet’s Assault. I took a photograph of the monument just as the sun silhouetted the soldier and its base. Even though it was a moment of reflection and peace, the silhouetted soldier is in motion, ready to combat the enemy.

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As the sun continued to fall behind the mountains, I walked back towards the Brian House near Ziegler’s Grove, just north of the Angle. Along another rock wall, stood a soldier from New York, cocking the hammer of his musket, ready to regain and prove his honor against the Southerners. The soldier of the 111th New York Infantry was one of 12,500 who had surrendered to Maj. Gen. Stonewall Jackson at Harpers Ferry on September 15, 1862. Gettysburg was his first fight back from his imprisonment in Chicago at Camp Douglas. With 249 casualties from a heavy fight, the soldiers of the 111th New York proved their honor and courage that day at Gettysburg.

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In 2017, I still look back at my time reflecting in Gettysburg on that September day. Although I spent four years on the battlefield while I balanced my studies at Gettysburg College, those photographs I took on that day still resonate with me. I continue to feel the sacrifice, courage, honor, and bravery on that hallowed ground. To many of us who spend the majority of our lives pouring through the books, archives, photographs, and stories of those who served in the Civil War, we share those moments in which we truly connect with the land before us. As Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain put it, “In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream.”

Kristen M. Trout is the Programming Coordinator and Historian at the Missouri Civil War Museum in St. Louis, Missouri. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2014 with a BA in History and Civil War Era Studies, and is currently pursuing her MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management at Webster University. A native of Kansas City, Kristen has a fond interest in the Civil War in Missouri, Civil War medicine, and the war experiences of soldiers.

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3 Responses to Modern Photography: “On Great Fields, Something Stays” – My Time on Cemetery Ridge

  1. Rob Wilson says:

    Very nice photographs and reflections on that hallowed ground.

    • Kristen Trout says:

      Rob,

      Thank you very much! It is truly an honor being able to visit hallowed ground and honor those who served on those fields.

  2. I enjoyed these wonderful photographs, but I must confess that I was puzzled by the statement that the 111th New York was imprisoned at Camp Douglas in Chicago. Why would Union troops be imprisoned in a northern prison? Apparently, the 111th was sent to a parole camp in Annapolis, Maryland after their capture and parole at Harpers Ferry. From there, they were sent all the way to Chicago, Illinois and Camp Douglas to wait to be exchanged due to the Dix-Hill Cartel. The Dix-Hill Cartel was an agreement between the Union and the Confederacy on how to exchange prisoners that were paroled, signed on July 22, 1862. It did not include a statement on how parolees and prisoners were to be treated.
    When the 111th arrived at Camp Douglas, they joined other Harpers Ferry parolees. There were over 8,000 men from Harpers Ferry sent there to wait to be exchanged. Another camp was built west of Camp Douglas called Camp Tyler for some of the overflow. This camp also included the stables west of Camp Douglas. The Harpers Ferry men were not happy campers. Some of them tried to escape and some set fire to some of the barracks. One author stated that the Union men did more damage to Camp Douglas than the Confederates. This indicates that the conditions were not great at Camp Douglas even for Union men. A number of them were shot trying to escape and some died of disease. The Harpers Ferry men started to arrive at Camp Douglas on September 28, 1862 and were exchanged by the end of November 1862. A couple of regiments stayed for awhile to act as guards, the 111th New York was not one of them. I imagine that Camp Douglas was glad to get rid of the Harpers Ferry men.
    Camp Douglas started as a training facility for Union soldiers. It was named for Stephen Douglas, the famous Senator from Illinois. Camp Douglas was changed into a prisoner of war camp with the arrival of the Confederates captured at Fort Donelson. Some Union men still trained there, but in smaller numbers. Well over 4,000 men (some say as many as 7,000 men) died at Camp Douglas during its existence. They were first buried at City Cemetery (the south end of present day Lincoln Park) and after the war were moved to Oak
    Woods Cemetery. On May 30, 1895, President Grover Cleveland dedicated the Confederate Mound monument at Oak Woods Cemetery. There are more Confederate soldiers buried at Oak Woods Cemetery than anywhere else north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
    The 111th New York did not enjoy their visit to Chicago and Kristen Trout is right, they were imprisoned at Camp Douglas. There is a Camp Douglas Restoration Foundation, see campdouglas.org.

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