A City Point Image Analysis

"Gen. [Marsena R.] Patrick's headquarters and mail wharf" (LC-DIG-cwpb-01973)


The great detail in the Civil War images available for download from the Library of Congress and the National Archives is simply amazing.  Combine that detail with the relatively  poor descriptions that are associated with these images and you have a fantastic opportunity for detailed research.  William Frassanito has been a leader in researching battlefield photos,  figuring out exactly where and when many of iconic battlesfield images were captured.  However there is little detailed information on the many images taken at City Point.   I haven't seen any information about exactly when these images were produced and little has been done to understand what exactly is depicted.  I have posted some information that I have discovered about some of the images on my other City Point pages. 

In planning my model railroad, I have picked a date in early December of 1864 to model.  Since there are dozens of City Point images available, I need to determine the date the image was captured in order to determine the usefullness of that particular image in recreating the base in early December, 1864. 

While researching the image shown above,  in order to determine it's date,  all kinds of interesting discoveries and questions  have arisen.    The intentionof this web page, is to share some of the process that I went through and the discoveries that I've made.

When was the Picture Taken?

There are several clues that help date this picture. 

Quartermaster wharf

There is a end of year (FY1865) report by D.C. McCallum, Superintendent of Military Railroad in Virgina in the Official Records. That report gives an indication when the warehouse that just appears on the edge of the frame was put up.

"Not much of note in railroad affairs occurred from February 28 to April 3. The construction department was kept busy making additional improvements wherever needed, and building a wharf at City Point, in the gap between the quartermaster's and railroad wharves."

The building at right edge of the picture most likely was put up during March, 1865, so that would seem to date the picture to the last days of the war.

Map with Quartermaster builing

On this crop of Merrick's post war map, I added an arrow to point out this building.   

camera angle

The pictures shown on this web page were all taken from the bluff near the barracks.  A small building on the map, which should be in view, in front of the wagons, apparently didn't exist at the time of the photograph, and was built afterward.

There is a companion image taken at the same time, that shows a complete view of the building that was erected as part of the new wharf.  The digitized version can be found in the National Archives.

Quartermaster Wharf
National Archices ARC identifier - 525139

The mules along the left edge of this picture, match up exactly with the mules in the center of the picture that I'm studying, confirming that the images were taken within minutes of each other.  Also the string of 5 box cars are positioned in exactly the same way.  When zooming in, it becomes apparent that the roof for this building is still under construction.  If McCallum's report is accurate, then this would definately place the picture in the approximate March, 1865, timeframe.

roof under construction

Other details can help date the image.  For instance, the amount of foilage on the trees in this series of pictures is a good clue.

Library of Congress (LC-DIG-cwpb-01970)

Take a look at the foilage.  There is quite a bit of foilage among the different trees, but a number are still bare.  I did some basic research regarding leaf out in Virginia in spring and believe that this most likely indicates a time frame of late March or early April.



In the foreground of the picture and also on the bluff, there appears to be melting snow on the ground.  If these images were taken in late March, can we corolate the apparent snow on the ground with a known spring snow storm? 

I happened to have recently picked up an interesting book called "Civil War Weather in Virginia", by Robert K Krick.  It contains daily temperature readings done by a reverend in Georgetown, Maryland, about 90 miles North of City Point.  I hoped I would find an entry for March snow storm, or at least a stretch of cold weather, from a February snow storm, leading into March.  I pulled the book off the shelf and looked and what I found was that March was a cool, damp, month, with a lot of rain, but no snow.  Except for a few frosts, the last snow reported came on Febuary 12th, and there were few warm days and rain showers between the 12th and the end of Feburary.  There were only two days reported in March that were below freezing and no snow at all and remember that City Point should be a bit warmer than Georgetown.  I also checked an online copy of a period Richmond, VA newspaper, and could find no news of snow in March.  At this point, I'm fairly sure of the late March date, but the snow is a bit of puzzle.  Either the snow lasted from February until the photo was taken, there was an unreported snow storm,  or this is not really snow at all.  I don't know the answer to this puzzle.

Army Wagon Mystery?

The army wagons in these images contain distinctive unit identifiers.

10th corp wagons

These wagons appear to carry insignia of the 10th corps.   I'm thinking that since the second division's insignia is in white, that this is the most likely division.   The 10th corps was broken up to form the 24 corps  on December 3rd, 1864, well before these photographs were taken.    The second division was assigned to the actions along the Carolina coast that resulted in the fall of Fort Fischer.  Eventually, the second division became a component of a reconstitued 10th corps.  This new 10th corps was reconstituted in March, 1865, and was involved in operations in North Carolina.  These wagons were probably leftovers from the original 10th Corps.  As the second division was involved in operations along the coast, the wagons were probably reassigned.  They could have been used by the XXIV corps, where the 1st and 3rd divisions were assigned or any other unit which continued operating in front of Petersburg.  I think that it is unlikely these wagons at City Point were involved in operations of the second division in the Carolinas.

Here is another cropped image that shows another army wagon with a clearly visable insignia.

2nd division army wagons

The clover is the second corps insignia.  This clover is either red (1st division) or blue (3rd division).   The 2nd division would be white.  Note that the wet plate process is not sensitive to red light.  A red clover should look pretty dark, almost black.  Since this clover is not black, but a medium grey,  I think that the color may be suggesting a blue clover, indicating 3rd division.  Note the soldiers trousers, which should be a light shade of blue,  seen in other portions of this series of images appear to be about the same shade of grey.

What this mix of wagons was doing at City Point, when the railroad line would clearly be a more efficient way to supply the troops stationed a number of miles from City Point, is beyond me.

Railroad Work Crew

As I was studying this photo for clues about when it was made, I realized that it captured a railroad work crew at work.  By the time the photographer makes the next image, these guys have moved on to their next task and have disappeared from view.

work crew

Locomotive in Action

This series of photos also captures a locomotive in action.   In the first image, you can see smoke rising from an engine that is located just out fof view, behind the bluff.

Locomotive Smoke

In one of the follow on photos, you can see the work crew has moved on, and a locomotive is pushing or pulling a string of loaded flat cars.  I'd like to think that the locomotive was waiting for the work crew to repair the track (1st image), before moving on with it's job (2nd image).

Locomotive at work

So much more could be investigated about the details in these images, but  I'll stop here, for now.

Part 2 of Analysis

After posting the initial analysis, I discovered some more information, which changes my initial conclusions, a bit.

First I discovered that another picture was part of this series.

Barracks with icecycles

In this image, the photographer turned around and took pictures of the barracks, that were behind him, in the previous images.  It clearly shows icicles hanging from the eaves.  With this evidence, there can be no doubt that these images are of snow.    Icicles form on days when the temperature is a bit below freezing.  The roof of a heated building may raise above  freezing as the relatively warm air inside the building heats it.    Then the snow on the roof will melt, run down the roof and then freeze again when the melted snow reaches the eaves which are not heated by the warm air inside the building.   Since there is snow on the roofs of the buildings in this image, it is likely to be  fairly fresh snow.   The heat inside a building like these quickly constructed barracks, would melt any snow on the roof in a climate like Virginia in fairly short amount of time.   I  suspect that this picture was taken within a few days after the snowfall.


The other information, is something I knew all along, but never connected to these photographs.  That is that some deciduous tress loose their leaves in the spring.  In a black and white photo like this, it would be hard to tell if the leaves were brown or green.  I might do a color analysis at some point, do not have time, right now.  A possible candidate for the tree at the left of this image is the Pin Oak, which is well known for sheading it's leaves in springtime, just before leaf out.

I can not find any likely evidence of snowfall in March, so I'm starting to believe that the pictures were taken soon after one of the Feburary snow storms reported in the book, "Civil War Weather in Virginia".  It is possible that the building under construction, was built before the wharf, described in McCallum's report, or that there is an error in the report.

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