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The Great Emancipators: 1863

The Great Emancipators: 1863

Aquia Creek Landing, Virginia, circa 1863. "Federal Army. Clerks of the Commissary Depot by railroad car and packing cases." A somewhat unsettling scene. Wet plate glass negative by Alexander Gardner. View full size.


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It is interesting that these men (except the man holding the cup and perhaps the one with the beard) are not wearing uniforms. The man with the cup is wearing a fatigue blouse and the army "brogans."

The man with the cup is most likely a freed slave. These 'contrabands' were often hired as servants. Higher ranking officers were issued a pay allowance, extra rations and uniforms for a servant. At least this man is a paid worker - far removed from slavery. Given the choice, I think the man would keep this station in life over his former state.

Handsome People in Strange Clothes

Nothing about this picture offends me. It is of its time. I love the clarity - which is remarkable.


I hate history. Why can't everything have been just like it is now and never, ever change?


There appears to be an awful lot of it going on here. And I don't mean in the picture.

Looking on the bright side

While not happy with the way people were treated back then, I do wonder if he had a few good secrets stored away!

His Look

I think what disturbs me more than anything is the serene look on the black gentleman's face. To me it suggests he may be conditioned to accept his lower position, or it could be that he's secretly donning a mask.

Either way, cheers to those who were similarly disturbed, and congrats on all of us moving far from the days portrayed in this picture.

That Hat

Looks more like an early conductor's hat to me than a kepi. No badge, though -- but then, no military insignia at all.

Unsettling indeed

What makes it so is not servitude but servility.


I didn't understand your comment until I scrolled down. It is a very sad picture!!! Double cringe!

Boo Hooey

Sensitivities? Didn't Janet Napolitano just ask a military officer to refill her glass? People had servants back in the day ... nothing in this picture shocks except the foreboding bureaucracy that would taint this "nation" for generations. Sic Semper Tyrannus!

[Always the cherry on the sundae when the poster's last word on the subject is amusingly misspelled. - Dave]

They have the look

of bullies to me.

What were they really fighting for?

I'll see your cringe and raise you a wince. It should be remembered, though, that at that time the Union states' attitude toward races other than white was rather uncharitable, albeit in (sometimes) more subtle ways. It is good that we are today disturbed by such insensitivity. Thank you, Dave, for reminding us of how far we've come.


The covering on the kepi is actually an oilcloth cover that was issued to the troops in the Civil War.

Looks like ...

Looks like a load of coffins to me. I saw the same stacked in Vietnam.

[These are hardtack crates ("Army Bread"). As noted in the caption, this is the commissary depot. - Dave]


Hats seem to play a subtle role in this photo.

How is it that the gent on the far left has such a shiny hat? It looks like plastic. Is it oiled?

[Or maybe leather. - Dave]

Cup Holder

Apparently it's like taking a picture with your tea on a table.


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