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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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The Big Bang: 1864

The Big Bang: 1864

City Point, Virginia. "Wharves after the explosion of ordnance barges on August 4, 1864." Wet-plate glass negative from photographs of the main Eastern theater of war, the siege of Petersburg, June 1864-April 1865. View full size.

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Barrels of Bones

According to this article, the date of the explosion was August 9, 1864.

General Grant is reported to have sent a telegram to Washington five minutes after the blast, claiming that "every part of the yard used as my headquarters is filled with splinters and fragments of shell." The New York Times reported a few days later that steamers and barges were sunk and wharves and warehouses destroyed -- and several barrels of human remains were collected from the site.

The Times article (available in their archives) makes for ascinating reading. A list of the killed and wounded is appended and it appears that "colored" dockworkers suffered the brunt of the human damage. Their names are listed along with a Capt. Benedict, who was found in the warehouse under "fourteen boxes of soap."

It appears that this photograph was taken several days later, as tents have been erected and the debris piled in the middle-ground of the frame. it also looks like other barges have been unloaded and goods stacked neatly on the rebuilt or restored docks.


This photo gives rise to thoughts surrounding what the scenario would be if an American Civil War were to be fought today (let's just say between the two major political parties). I'm willing to bet it would be much shorter, have far fewer human fatalities, there would be much less property destruction, less illness and starvation and many more pacifists or conscientious objectors. Let your imagination run wild (your assignment for today). Oh, and tell us the outcome.

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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