In Dust They Wait

The First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery had its baptism of fire on this date 160 years ago, May 19, 1864, at Spotsylvania Court House, where they deployed across the Harris farm and stretched northward to the Alsop farm. The regiment brought more than 1,600 men onto the field, where they stood in the open and duked it out with Carolinians from Stephen Ramseur’s and Bryan Grimes’s North Carolina brigades. The Heavies lost 394 men killed, wounded, and missing—a 24 percent casualty rate. They recounted their exploits in detail in their regimental history, published in 1917 (you can find it free online here).

The next day, photographer Timothy O’Sullivan photographed the battlefield around the Alsop farm and grabbed some stunning photos of the Confederate dead. Those photos were later reproduced as part of a collage that appeared in the 1st Mass Heavies’ regimental history as part of a tribute, “After the Battle”:

The photos that collage is based on bear closer examination. Here they are:

4 Responses to In Dust They Wait

  1. A poignant reminder of the real cost of war and reminder of the comments about Brady’s first photos of Antietam. “Mr. Brady has as much taken the war dead and laid them upon our door step.”

  2. Very well written, stark reminder of the horrors of war, the indignities suffered by the fallen.

  3. Wasn’t it Timothy O’Sullivan that posed the “dead Gettysburg sharpshooter” photo? So his photo of the dead man on his back, head towards the foreground at Spotsy’s Alsop Farm puts my radar up. Did the guy die on his back with his rifle across his hip and legs? Based on the dead man’s hands, I’d say that rifle was laying on the ground before the photo was taken. I suspect a posed photo and wonder if the hat was picked up from nearby him and added to the photo for composition. I’m wrong, right, when I say a rifle in the photograph of a dead Confederate is the signature of Timothy O’Sullivan. Then again, the dead are so fresh they still have shoes on.

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