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Old Dixie Down: 1864

1864. A passel of Yankees in repose. "Federal picket post near Atlanta, Georgia." Wet collodion  glass plate negative by George N. Barnard. View full size.

1864. A passel of Yankees in repose. "Federal picket post near Atlanta, Georgia." Wet collodion glass plate negative by George N. Barnard. View full size.


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The Chevrons

In 1864 the war was still raging. Many non-coms and officers did not wear insignia of rank in combat. They would, understandingly, be singled out by snipers.

Invisible chevrons?

Apart from the officer all the enlisted men in this photo appear to be privates. Not a sergeant or corporal in sight.


It is not a mountain in the background, but rather an earthen fort atop a hill. You can see sandbags along the parapet and also used as cribbing near the shoulder of the man standing to the left.

Although barely discernible in this picture (I have a higher resolution copy), a little ways above the head of the fellow in the center of the shot, are abatis. They form sort of a regular pattern just beneath the horizontal branch on the left of the tree whose top has been knocked off.

Barnard took quite a few pictures of the earthworks that enclosed Atlanta, but never ventured far from the city when photographing that place. Another version of this photo claims it was taken just prior to the Battle of Atlanta (July 22, 1864), however that is highly unlikely. It is hard to imagine Barnard setting up his camera within easy sniper and artillery range of what at the time would have been an enemy-occupied fortification.

Stone Mountain or Arabia Mountain?

It could be Arabia Mountain. It's part of the same rock vein as Stone, but significantly smaller.

Knives and guns

The bayonet was invented because sometimes a knife is just what you need in a gunfight -- particularly with the slow rate of fire on muzzle-loading muskets.

Bringing a knife to a gun fight...

On first glance when this photo was first posted I also thought the officer in the center was holding a rifle with the muzzle facing down. Upon closer inspection he actually has his hand on the handle of his saber.

The fence post behind him gives the illusion of the stock of a rifle, especially in the small image size.

Muzzle down would be a weird position while seated, as it could easily contact the dirt and clog the muzzle with the resulting dire consequences the next time it was fired.

A saber, isn't that like bringing a knife to a gun fight in this case.


Based on the definition below of the picket unit, we have here, possibly, the Lieutenant, with officer piping on his trousers, center right and facing left holding rifle; two Sergeants, one on the left side leaning against a tree and the other sitting in front of the Lieutenant and facing left; and the four Corporals, with taller hats.

Stone Mountain

That does in fact look like Stone Mountain to me - I can nearly see it from my house. There are some mountains of about the same size in Kennesaw, north of Atlanta, but those are all covered with trees. The mountain in this photo is bare. Can't imagine what else would fit the bill.

Federal Picket Post

I suppose picket duty would mean they're guards or sentries.

Picket -- An advance outpost or guard for a large force was called a picket. Ordered to form a scattered line far in advance of the main army's encampment, but within supporting distance, a picket guard was made up of a lieutenant, two sergeants, four corporals, and 40 privates from each regiment. Picket duty constituted the most hazardous work of infantrymen in the field. Being the first to feel any major enemy movement, they were also the first liable to be killed, wounded, or captured. And the most likely targets of snipers. Picket duty, by regulation, was rotated regularly in a regiment.


The soldier leaning against the tree looks as though he lost his right arm.

[Something tells me his limb is behind the tree. - Dave]

Stone Mountain

Any idea how close to Atlanta? If we're talking CLOSE to Atlanta I know of only one mountain as big as what is behind them, and that is Stone Mountain.

Helmets Obsolete in 1860

The helmet had been discarded along with chain mail and suits of armor once they were rendered useless by gunpowder and bullets. The tradeoff was increased mobility and a major change of tactics over the centuries.

The American Civil War was largely fought with concepts introduced during the Napoleanic war where massed infantry closed and fired face-to-face at virtually point-blank range, a result of the less powerful, short-range weapons then in use. The musket of the 1860s however had a much higher velocity and longer range, and was a far cry from any squirrel gun, muzzle-loader or shotgun with which recruits might be familiar. As such, the musket "kicked" hard when fired, causing the shooter to pull up involuntarily while the ball was still traveling down the barrel — early on, many Federal troops wore approximately 3" brass or fire gilt buckles over the chest as part of their uniform that proved an excellent aiming point for even the most inexperienced Confederate infantryman — and as the shooter's weapon moved upward a foot or so, the ball would most likely strike the head of his opponent.

Later, the American Civil War introduced the concept of fixed fortifications, including trenches, and re-introduced stalemate/siege warfare. This again changed the role of artillery from largely defensive to offensive. Exploding shells designed to dislodge and eliminate dug-in infantry were a novel idea in the 1860s. By WWI however, they had advanced considerably and were designed to burst in the air over enemy positions, filling the ground below with deadly shrapnel — the early hardened steel helmet with its wide brim was designed to protect the head from this, but offered little protection from bullets, a shortcoming that was realized during WWII when the sides were extended downward.

Hold Your Razors

Half of these boys ain't even of shaving age yet!

Defensive position

It looks as if these men have built a small defensive position here. It seems to be a low wall built of logs, debris and mud, with the building built into it. The porch has bricks stacked to continue the breast works. If attacked they could shoot from behind a pretty solid wall. This would have been the Civil War equivalent of digging a foxhole.

Missing in Action

Where's the fellow who is usually shown lying across the bottom of all the other group photos.

And another thing

No one ever smiles! I know the exposure times were much longer in those days, and posing was a chore, but everyone looks so solemn all the time. This particular day doesn't look very joyous, but still.

How Many Lives

would have been saved if they only had steel helmets, even like those used in WWII. There were a lot of head injury deaths back then. Makes you wonder why they never thought of a helmet of sorts.


The lone shoe tells of the "horrendous loss" war demands.


The other thing I always notice is how very lean these men all were. They spent their lives marching; their diet was meager, even on the Union side. The stress level in their lives was tremendous. That's one thing war movies and reenactors never get right. They were scrawny little guys.

Stoneman's cavalry, tired from tearing up the tracks?

I swear, I don't know which I enjoy more -- the amazing Shorpy photos, or your clever titles for them.


I hate to be one of those grammar people.... but since we are talking about the South ...

The word "Yankees" should always be prefaced with "damn," or similar pejorative.


I'm always amazed when seeing old photos like this, that the movie companies haven't realized that clothing was stretched, worn, and wrinkled, that hats were soggy felt instead of "crisp clean stetsons," and boots were worn through! In our theater company, we do a "breakdown" on almost all our wardrobe (sometimes with belt sanders), but I don't think even that can match the reality of the era!

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