A Quarter Century of Researching Fredericksburg’s Burial-of-the-Dead Photographs, pt. 1

Mysteries & Conundrums

from: Harrison

It’s one of the Civil War’s most poignant series of images: photographs of a burial crew in Union-occupied Fredericksburg in May 1864. The men they inter are casualties of the battle of the Wilderness and, possibly, of Spotsylvania Court House as well. I can’t imagine a more powerful visual accompaniment for reflecting upon the Civil War during the final weeks of its sesquicentennial. And I can’t imagine a more compelling mystery: in Grant and Lee: the Virginia Campaigns 1864-1865 (1983), historian William A. Frassanito noted that identifying the location of the series remained to be accomplished.

Here’s one of its images (with my slight cropping for clarity)—the photo that I relied upon most extensively during the trial-and-error research described below:

Courtesy Library of Congress. Courtesy Library of Congress.

I’ve studied the set of photos intermittently but closely since 1989, and shared interpretations of it in 1995 in a book and, three years…

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