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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • BRIDGE AT ARGENTEUIL, 1874

Company A: 1864

Company A: 1864

August 1864. "Petersburg, Virginia. Company A, U.S. Engineer Battalion." Photos from the main Eastern theater of war, the siege of Petersburg, June 1864-April 1865. Wet plate glass negative, photographer unknown. Full size 1 | Full size 2.

 

Engineers at the Crater

For what it's worth, I don't think any engineers were involved in the digging of that famous tunnel prior to the Battle of the Crater. The U.S. Army's engineers considered the idea of digging under Confederate lines to be, in their words, "claptrap and nonsense," mostly because the tunnel would need to be longer than 400 feet, a distance that precluded proper ventilation. So the miners of the 48th Pennsylvania were forced to carry on without the engineers' help, even using improvised tools. They figured out their own ingenious ventilation system and, in the end, the tunnel was an unprecedented 511 feet.

Learn somethin' new every day

I was just about to ask if the feller with the light gray shirt, slouch hat and unfortunate haircut was blind till I saw your blue eyes/whiteout explanation. Thanks Dave! You da MAN!

Wolverine!

I see Wolverine in there, second row, fifth from the right, first guy in full standing pose! Eh? Eh? Am I right? That's him! His brother is probably the guy standing next to him too. ~wink~
War is hell.

Rings

It appears that only the soldier reclining in the front right (who resembles Donald Sutherland in a way) is wearing a visible wedding band. However, I see several pinky rings on display, and one fancy feller is sporting a pinky ring on each hand.

No Veneer Here

The vision of a 3-month war had disappeared long ago for each of these scrappers. They were all wondering how they survived this long and could think of nothing but going home. They would carry with them all of the gut-wrenching gore they'd seen, the inhumanity, waste and horrible decisions of their commanders. Theirs would be a life of unspoken and painful memories that only fellow soldiers would understand.

My great-great grandfather was shot and captured just outside of Petersburg on June 22, 1864. His real suffering was just beginning when this picture was taken. Libby Prison, Andersonville, Millen. Thankfully, he survived the ordeal but lived a maimed life.

These guys may have seen action

This Company may indeed have seen hard combat. It is not even platoon size, let alone company size. It has all the characteristics of a company that has been depleted.

Anybody in charge here?

I see no officers and there are no visible chevrons so no NCOs either. These appear to be privates. The guys in checkered shirts may be civilians because they are not wearing uniforms jackets either; many civilians served along side with specialist units. The soldier standing on the right has a sense of flair as he wears his slouch hat pulled to the side of his head.

Engineers did amazing work during the Civil War, using logs to construct all manner of bridges, fortications, roads and defenses and generally with hand tools. Their contributions have largely gone unnoticed except for many of the great photos here on Shorpy.

Essayons!

145 years too late

The gent sitting on the left (with his arms crossed) is so handsome I can't take my eyes off him.

The Crater

This picture was taken just after the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864, and I wonder how many of these engineers were involved in that colossal blunder during the seige of Petersburg. The attempt to tunnel under Confederate lines and set off 8000 pounds of gunpowder ended up costing 3800 Union casualties.

Back to the farm

Down front, middle, tall hat and bushy sideburns. He looks like he just wants to be done and get back home to the farm. I can't even imagine what those guys have been through, and what it will be like to go back to regular life after that. The closeups are incredible, that is an amazingly touching picture.

Who's the Boss?

Can anyone tell who is the commander of this unit?

Graphic Proof

These men have seen enough and done enough. What's the line, "Don't wanna practice war no more"? Here's confirmation!

Fatigue

What you see in those faces, more than anything else is fatigue. A down deep in the bones fatigue, not just from physical exhaustion, but also from the emotional and spiritual exhaustion of witnessing three years of death and suffering.

Cold steel

If need be, these men would kill you, and then kill you again while they were killing you.

Thanks for posting

That larger image. Makes a huge difference. Nice pile of branches for the backdrop.

Blue and Gray

If you think the uniform regulations are lax here, try finding a picture of a Confederate unit at this same point in the war. Trust me, the Rebels would have made these boys look like they were heading for a parade review.

No thanks

How would you like to run into these guys out in the middle of the woods?!

The "die hard" re-enactors

The "die hard" reenactors don't have the extra weight either. I suggest reading Horowitz's great book "Confederates in the Attic," in which he spends some time with these men. They eat the same (terrible) food as those pictured above, and often eat nothing for a couple of days. Call them crazy, but at least they are somewhat true to the real deal (within limits of course).

It Was Nearly Over

This was very late in the war, and these Union troops could possibly have felt victory coming. In spite of their ragged uniforms, and in some cases hardly any uniform at all, there's still a sense of sheer determination on most of these faces, which I read as, "The Rebs started this mess, and we're damn well going to finish it!"

Here we have the sort of ordinary men who became heroes only because it was demanded of them; given the choice, most of them probably would have stayed home with their families, but they were not given any such choice. These are the citizen-soldiers who were so movingly described by Stephen Crane and Ambrose Bierce.

Thousand Yard Stares

1864: These guys have seen a lot of combat. They have seen the worst of it, judging by the thousand yard stares of some in this shot. Earlier in the war, photographs show a modicum of cockiness. It is sure missing here. No Napoleon-like hands in coats, not as many cocked hats. There is death in some of those eyes.

Kissing Cousins

looks to be the parents of a few of these men, none the less I applaud them all for their courage.

Good Eyes

Its amazing that not one of these men are not wearing a pair of glasses.

Company A: 1864

Look at their faces. It runs the full spectrum from new recruit, experienced recruit ( who has been in a battle or two ) to to a full time vet who has seen it all. Look at their eyes. Spooky. Spooky eyes. You wonder what they witnessed, and I KNOW it wasn't pretty.

Smooth

I'm surprised how many of these soldiers are clean shaven. It goes against my mental picture of the men who fought (or engineered) the War Between the States.

The thin of the land

Another difference between these guys and "re-enactors" (besides the uniform insignia) are that not one of these poor guys has an ounce of extra weight on his frame. Walking up and down the nation for four years tends to take off the paunch.

Casualty of war

It is often said that the 1st casualty of war is the truth.
Having attended one war I can say that the 2nd casualty of war is probably uniform regulations. Once you are in the war zone the standards for spit and polish, proper hats, etc. tend to degrade rapidly. These fellows probably started their military careers in spiffy new uniforms. By 1864 things had changed considerably.

A sign of the times

More interesting to me than the supposedly evil looks being given is the obvious point that the protocol of a group photograph would have been entirely unknown to these men. At least half are looking away, and the rest are not so much wicked, in my opinion, as simply suspicious - uncertain as to what's expected of them. A few decades later and they'd have known to look at the camera and make some effort at least to make themselves presentable.

Rather than zombies, they're just awkward: pioneers in an art form that we're familiar with but to them was completely alien.

[I think the "zombie" comments are referring to those soldiers whose eyes look like they don't have irises -- the "whiteout" appearance that characterizes photos of people with blue eyes before the era of panchromatic emulsions. - Dave]

Company A

These guys are a company of Engineers, who build fortifications, obstacles, fascines, etc., not a volunteer infantry company. Likely they have been in the service since 1861, have had few battle casualties (but probably some due to disease) and so are very much hardened soldiers. Also note the photo was taken at Petersburg, a very long siege that sapped the morale and strength of much of the Union Army.

When government-issued clothing, etc., wore out, often substitute items were sent from home and no regulation would have prevented anyone from what little comfort they could get.

Stardom Awaits

Last guy on right, middle row, if he lives long enough, would be a cinch for a job as a Keystone Kop.

Fourth from the left....

.....back row. Would you buy a used car from this man? He has the eyes of an axe murderer.

The zombies frighten me

Look at all those zombies, especially on the left side of the group, #4 and #5 in the back row. *shudder*

Uniformity

Interesting how the concept of a uniform has changed. Doubt anyone in today's armed forces would wear a plaid shirt under their uniform jacket for a formal picture.

 
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