Sunday, May 6, 2012

Shiloh photo

The Battle of Shiloh during the American Civil War was fought April 6–7, 1862, in southwestern Tennessee. Confederate troops advanced on the 1st day at the cost of the life of their commander General Albert Sidney Johnston, but were defeated by Union forces on the 2nd. Fighting in the Confederate Army was Welsh journalist and explorer Henry M. Stanley* (1841-1904), who left a firsthand account of the battle, an excerpt of which I quote from Eyewitness to History:
"After being exposed for a few seconds to this fearful downpour, we heard the order to 'Lie down, men, and continue your firing!' Before me was a prostrate tree, about fifteen inches in diameter, with a narrow strip of light between it and the ground. Behind this shelter a dozen of us flung ourselves. The security it appeared to offer restored me to my individuality. We could fight, and think, and observe, better than out in the open. But it was a terrible period! How the cannon bellowed, and their shells plunged and bounded, and flew with screeching hisses over us! Their sharp rending explosions and hurtling fragments made us shrink and cower, despite our utmost efforts to be cool and collected. I marveled, as I heard the unintermitting patter, snip, thud, and hum of the bullets, how anyone could live under this raining death. I could hear the balls beating a merciless tattoo on the outer surface of the log, pinging vivaciously as they flew off at a tangent from it, and thudding into something or other, at the rate of a hundred a second. One, here and there, found its way under the log, and buried itself in a comrade's body. One man raised his chest, as if to yawn, and jostled me. I turned to him, and saw that a bullet had gored his whole face, and penetrated into his chest. Another ball struck a man a deadly rap on the head, and he turned on his back and showed his ghastly white face to the sky." 
In the photograph (above), soldiers of the 9th Texas Infantry Regiment and the 1st Missouri Battalion stand on the Shiloh battlefield, flag in hand. But not one of these men were among the 10,699 casualties suffered by the Confederacy over these 2 days. How do we know that for sure? The photo was not taken in 1862, but at a reenactment on the 145th anniversary of the battle in 2007 by member of the 9th Texas Herb Shemwell, who used digital techniques to "age" the image. Reenactments are also the subjects of photographers like John Coffer, who specializes in the historical wetplate process.

*Of "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" fame.

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