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Cobb's Hill: 1864

Cobb's Hill: 1864

1864. "Bermuda Hundred, Virginia. Photographer [possibly Mathew Brady, next to the horse] at Butler's signal tower, Cobb's Hill, Appomattox River." Note the cloth-draped darkroom and developing chemicals in bottles on the grass. Wet plate glass negative, half of stereo pair. View full size.


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Bermuda Hundred

Note the stonking big Petzval lens on the grass in the foreground with its lens board next to it.

Wet plate

Well, to be clear, a wet plate is first coated by pouring) with salted collodion (this can be done in daylight then submerged in silver nitrate solution. When it is taken out of the bath it has to be loaded into the camera wet plate back in darkness, exposed and then developed in darkness, washed and fixed. A lot of the civil war images were actually 5x8 inch stereo plates, other common sizes were whole-plate, half-plate or 8x10. 11x14 is rarer.

Wet Plate Photography

The detail on the full-size image is amazing. I've been looking for a highly detailed collodion plate that includes a "what-is-it-wagon." I am just getting into wet plate photography myself, having just taken a John Coffer workshop. I'll have to link to your site.

Just a quick note on the wet plate process - the collodion itself could be flowed onto the plate in daylight and put in the silver nitrate tank (inside the darkbox set up). Once sensitized, the plate was transferred to the plate holder for the camera. The darkbox had a red window that allowed some visibility (and the haloids in silver nitrate were not sensitive to this color).

--- Bryan

Bermuda Hundred, VA - fascinating history

From official Virginia tourism web site (

"Bermuda Hundred was started in 1613, after the English settlers made peace with the Virginia natives. It was named after the traumatic shipwreck of the "Third Supply" bringing reinforcements to Virginia in 1609. The leaders of that expedition were shipwrecked in Bermuda and had to take their wrecked ship apart and build two smaller ships to finally get to Virginia. Bermuda Hundred was initially intended to include several "hundreds" upstream and downstream of the Appomattox River.The Bermuda settlements were attacked severely in 1622, when the natives abandoned their efforts at peaceful coexistence. Bermuda Hundred never gained prominence again until 1864 when a Union Army occupied it. The Federal troops came very close to capturing Petersburg and ending the Civil War, before being bottled up on the peninsula."

Army engineering

The tower in this photo is a good example of the amazing work done by Army Engineers, using timber rather than sawn lumber. Bridges, railroad trestles, and fortifications had to be constructed quickly without modern power tools.

On the other hand, on the roof appears to be a door pressed into service to support a pole for an absent telegraph wire(?). Some of the sawn lumber appears to be the work of the 3 Stooges.

Heroic work

It is worth mentioning that a wet plate negative was quite literally that, a liquid silver-salt collodion emulsion first mixed by the photographer then "painted" evenly onto a large plate of glass, usually in the 11x14 range, all in utter darkness before being loaded into a light-tight film holder for immediate exposure. It was noxious, nerve-wracking work and the men who performed it in the field, like Brady's assistant Timothy O'Sullivan (who likely took this picture), really are unsung heros of Art and Science.

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