How diligent research revealed the identity of the Gettysburg Devil’s Den ‘sharpshooter’

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Alexander Gardner’s photo of the Confederate Devil’s Den Sharpshooter

From History Net by Scott Fink:

A Confederate soldier, his youthful face turned toward the viewer, lies behind a stone wall built between two boulders in Gettysburg’s notorious Devil’s Den. His head rests on a knapsack, and his rumpled uniform coat makes it almost appear as if he is asleep under a blanket. But relics of war intrude on the scene so there is no mistaking he is a casualty of ferocious combat. A musket leans against the wall in the background, and an open cartridge box lies at his side. A cap is next to his head, where it landed after the soldier fell dead. Photographer Alexander Gardner took the arresting image on July 6, 1863, and when he published it for public consumption, he titled it “Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter” to convey that the soldier was a marksman who had been picking off Union soldiers on Little Round Top, seen in the distance, before a shell fragment fired by a Union cannon snuffed out his life.

An overarching question about the image had long intrigued me: Just who was the unfortunate Confederate casualty? The desire to answer that set me on a research quest to find a name, and I am confident I have been successful. But first a bit of history on the image with one of the most intriguing Civil War photography backstories.

Gardner and his assistant, Timothy O’Sullivan, actually staged that dramatic scene by moving the dead soldier, who was not a sharpshooter but a common foot soldier, from another location in Devil’s Den to the barricade to create a dramatic tableaux, complete with carefully dressed accessories that included the musket, accoutrements, and uniform items. Gardner and Sullivan took two plates of the Confederate at the wall, one of which was a stereoview. The fact that the corpse was photographed in two separate locations went unnoticed for nearly a century until Frederick Ray, an illustrator for Civil War Times, wrote the short article, “The Case of the Rearranged Corpse” in the October 1961 issue of this magazine.

Read the rest of the article at History Net



Categories: American Civil War

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