Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Civil War Views: Another Photograph of the 43rd New York at Camp Griffin?

In October 1861, Gen. William F. "Baldy" Smith's division established Camp Griffin near Langley and Lewinsville, Virginia (today's McLean). The regiments in Smith's force included the 43rd New York of Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock's brigade. Five years ago I discovered a stereoview of the 43rd New York at Camp Griffin. This scene was captured by Edward Bierstadt, a photographer who was also the brother of famed artist Albert Bierstadt. After some additional research, I recently learned that Edward ran a temporary studio in Langley near the 43rd New York's quarters at Camp Griffin. There he joined other photographers, including George Houghton, who took some iconic photographs of the Vermont Brigade in Northern Virginia. Surrounded by thousands of soldiers hungry for images to send to the folks back home, these photographers found a ready-made market for cartes-de-visite and camp pictures.

Among the Bierstadt photographs in the collection at the New York Public Library is the following, entitled "Culinary art in Camp, 43rd Reg. N.Y. Volunteers":

(courtesy of Wikimedia; also at NYPL Digital Collections)

This stereoscopic photograph does not mention a location. However, given that Bierstadt was with the 43rd New York at Camp Griffin, it seems highly probable that this photograph was taken there around the same general time as the regimental camp scene that I have featured before on the blog:

(courtesy of Wikimedia; also at NYPL Digital Collection)

This conclusion is further reinforced by the numbering convention at the bottom of both photographs. The photo of the regiment in formation bears the number 1319, while the culinary scene appears as number 1323. They are close enough in the sequence to be related to one another, and also bear the same photographer's inscription on the reverse of "Bierstadt Brothers, New Bedford, Mass." I haven't yet been able to reconstruct where else Bierstadt may have photographed the 43rd New York after Camp Griffin, if at all.

The photograph itself is rather curious. Bierstadt has captured an ordinary scene of camp life, in all its primitive glory, and his title for the photograph is certainly ironic! A crude shelter covers the "kitchen." Poultry and meat carcasses, along with a butcher's ax, appear to rest on a wooden plank. Boxes and pots clutter the background. A couple of the cooks wear what look like fezes. One man is busy cutting food. The picture reminds us that the Civil War was often more than just marches and battles. Thanks to Bierstadt, we are fortunate to get yet another opportunity to see life in the camps around Washington at the start of the war.


Eleanor Jones Harvey, The Civil War and American Art (2012).

For more on the location of the camp of the 43rd N.Y. see my previous posts here and here.


chubachus said...

That is really great that you made the connection that the kitchen stereoview could have been taken at Camp Griffin. It looks like a very likely thing from the evidence you present. I had actually come across that one for the first time a few months ago but didn't make anything of it.

Ron Baumgarten said...

Thanks! I saw your post on some Lewinsville photographs and that got me to thinking about the subject of my post. I agree that the evidence is pretty convincing that this is a photograph of the 43rd NY at Camp Griffin. I really think it is a rather unique picture, as so few Civil War era photographs depict such mundane camp settings, which are now fascinating for us in the 21st century!