The Empty Knapsack

Very prominent in the photo and stereo taken of the "Home" site is a knapsack. It is a large bulky piece of equipment-obviously containing unknown items. This knapsack barely shows up in the photographs taken down the hill. It is cleverly positioned beyond the right shoulder in the four down-hill photo/stereo views. It is best seen in Photo 4. Click here for photos.

The reason this once bulky knapsack is barely visible is because a number of interesting and valuable items have been removed and scattered about the down-hill photos, adding interest to the composition. Take a look at photo (5) and you will see in the lower left corner a hooded cloak for keeping the sharpshooter dry during rainy times. In the right center foreground is what appears to be a piece of silk cloth- no doubt "acquired" by the soldier for his sweetheart. Well...that part I threw in for all you romantics (like myself )out there. Instead, my best guess is it's a rubber blanket. It is my understanding the southerners acquired these blankets from their better-equipped foes. If it is a rubber blanket then it is a very valuable item. It could serve as a tent-like cover or a ground cover to stop the cold and dampness.

Also appearing somewhere throughout the down-hill photos are a bullet, a folded pouch for (?) maybe tobacco or keeping letters and such dry, a squarish bottle or flask (its contents of white powder poured mostly upon the ground), a small curved-handle spoon, three (cornmeal?) biscuits, a round bar of what looks like soap, a paper box, a metal cup (usually shown with one or more of the biscuits inside), at least one clothespin, a shoe brush (probably borrowed along with those shoes July 2nd), and two other cloth items I think may belong to the photographers-one a large light-colored canvas (for covering the equipment?), the other possibly a black garment or wet plate container. I would submit that most of the above items came from that knapsack and belonged to the fellow I think was a sharpshooter.

The mere existence of the (possible) rubber blanket and (definite) cloak in the photographs taken down the hill tells us something else. If you consider the other possibilities and the visual evidence already presented, you may reasonably suspect the rubber blanket and cloak had to come from the knapsack and the knapsack had to come from up the hill first. Photo 3 actually shows the rolled up "rubber blanket" emerging from the knapsack. That is, if you assume like myself, the photographers could not have found it down there and then stuffed it back into the knapsack.

Remember that the Southerners gained complete control of this area and occupied it for the period beginning Thursday evening, the 2nd day of battle. It remained in Southern "control" until the battle ended (although here is where I part company with CW history because the clues shown in the photographs taken upon the SW-side of Houck's Ridge indicate no one in any numbers occupying this area during the daylight hours of the 3rd ). Therefore, the Confederates had plenty of time to glean items of value for their own desperate needs. I submit to you that EVERY item deemed of any value would have been totally confiscated from the entire Southern-held Houck's Ridge area. Even un-fired bullets would have been picked up (the same bullets would fit most Northern and Southern rifles).

And so, if this soldier was a common infantryman killed on the second day of battle, then why would his comrades not take the cloak, knapsack, rubber blanket, haversack, etc. Gardner had to get these items from somewhere and they would not have been lying in the open down-hill field. The empty knapsack provides the most apparent source. Thus, therein lies another visual clue that the soldier was not killed on the second day and, contrary to current thought, was actually found up the hill at the wall and boulders of his "Home".

The sawn away 5- inch diameter, 20 (plus or minus) foot high deciduous tree

Visible in photos 1 and 2 is a stump of a deciduous tree--probably a Quaking Aspen. A careful examination of this blurry stump still shows plainly that it has been removed by sawing. Not by shellfire. A 10 foot cedar (my best guess), some five feet to the right of this tree and not showing in either photograph, was probably hit and severed by shrapnel from the shell blast which toppled the wall. But not the deciduous tree's trunk -it was safe to the side and out of the narrow path bearing the debris from the blast. Click here for photos

I reason it was sawn because there is a half-circle smooth cut made at a 30-degree angle on the right side of the stump, and an essentially flat half-circle cut made into the left side. Finally, there is a pie-shaped wedge made from pulling this tree back or sideways and tearing it from the stump.

I think this tree has likely been sawn down for the same reason its lower branches have been stomped and flattened out of the way. That is, to make a clear photo-shot of the body of this sharpshooter lying in his home. This tree was obstructing the three-quarter view of the body. It would have been very easy to shift the soldier's body here or there to enable a shot without cutting down this tree. But the photographers choose to cut the tree down probably because they wanted to photograph the body mostly as they had found it. Either that or they feared touching it. If they had just carried the body into this "Home" area they could as well have placed him sitting against the far wall somewhere. He didn't have to be lying down. At the most the photographers may have cut off a few low branches from the tree to clear the view.

I had to mention that....even though it's a pretty weak realm of reasoning. I mean, the body might have still been too stiff in its' mid-section for bending, etc, etc.

But this is not my primary reason in mentioning this tree. What I did want to make clear is that this tree was most likely cut down by the photographers. I can't think of one good reason why any soldiers/farmers in this particular area of the battlefield would have sawn down this 5 inch diameter tree ( I will mention a few poor reasons later). The photos show similar diameter trees within sixty feet of the "Home" and they weren't touched.

But I can easily think of a very good reason why the photographers wanted this particular tree down and out, i.e., so that they could get a better 3/4 subject shot of a dead body lying beneath the stone wall in the "Home".With that in mind I wish to present the following photograph for your study. It is an enlargement of photograph 5 taken down the hill where the body was supposedly first found by the photographers.

Photo purchased from the LOC by the artist.

Let me describe what you are seeing. You are looking at the "Sharpshooter's Home" in the blurry distance as seen from DOWN the hill. Rittenhouse's battery would have been dead straight ahead on LRT during Friday, the third day of the battle. Study it well and note that you can visibly pick out all the various elements of the large boulders on either side of the sharpshooter's wall. Note the darker shadow (C) on the mid-side of the much larger rock to the right of the wall. That shadow is caused by a rather deep but natural indentation made when this rock was originally formed. Proceeding to the left of the big rock's indentation shadow you can make out the dead remains of a bare pine tree (perhaps originally some 30 feet high) located somewhat back our way from the Sharpshooter's "home". Since even dead pine trees do not usually separate halfway down their trunks, we can assume some forceful blow may have caused this effect. Judging from its alignment with the path of the heretofore mentioned shell blast, I suspect the culprit felling this tree so high up may have been shell-casing debris.

Notice, too, a little to the left of the rock shadow and forward of the pine tree is a small faint dark shape (B) growing from a line of rocks at the rear of the "Sharpshooter's Home". That faint object is a decapitated cedar tree. The darkness is caused by what's left of its green needle foliage (the rest of its guessable 10 ft. height being blown away).

Here is a photo I made of the scene today to show you where the cedar continued to grow, expanding to the left, before being sawn down many years ago [cedar wood rots slowly and lasts a long time-that's why it's the favorite choice for wooden shingles. Also please note: I have digitally "removed" the current "Sharpshooter is a fake" park display from the left center so that you are not confused by its position- too bad I couldn't remove it for real].

Here is a sketch made with the help of several photographs portraying the appearance of the cedar tree circa 1900 ( for another younger view, 2-4 years after the battle, of this cedar have a look at page 193 in Frassanito's "Journey") This sketch is very important as it shows a strange growth problem which occurred to this cedar many years before. To be precise, the visual evidence suggests it occurred on July 3rd, 1863, when debris and shrapnel from a cannon shell came roaring through this narrow defile known as the "Sharpshooter's Home". Directly in line with the wall and position of Rittenhouse's battery on LRT, it certainly seems the cedar was, along with the 30 ft. pine further back, a victim of the blast. The probable 10 foot top of this cedar was lopped off but it was not killed from the shell-effects. Unlike the human occupant in this hole, this cedar survived and thrived down to our time. Two upper branches grew together and formed a new trunk visible above the now fattened decapitated original. As evidenced by the photo on page 193 in Frassanito's "Journey...", by 1867 the cedar had--because of its healthy and extensive root system-- probably regained its initial 10-foot height prior to the shell-trimming. Bear in mind that little cedars, with immature root systems, do not grow so big so fast.

Now go scrolling back up to the old photo enlargement: Moving over slightly to the left of the faintly indicated decapitated cedar you should see -- because it is growing within four or five feet of it (in other words, in the enlargement, just next to it)-- the 20+ foot high deciduous tree with the 5-inch trunk. To help your orientation, look closely at (A).

Surprisingly, it isn't there. Which is strange, because the current belief maintains the photographers haven't been up there yet. This enlargement you are exploring is taken from one of the supposedly first four photos made down the hill. They have just found the body lying upon the lower open hillside and are in the process of photographing it there. And so they haven't carried it up to the wall and boulders yet. So we have no apparent reason why that tree has already been sawn down and cleared from the "Home" scene.

That is....if you are one of those believing the body was found down the hill.

Of course, this last observation, taken by itself, does not prove the absolute falsity of the current accepted notion that the body was first photographed down the hill. For example, just maybe the 20-foot tree was partially decapitated by the shell-debris also. Maybe just a tad too much tree stump was left in the way of the photographers when they relocated the body to the sharpshooter's "home". Maybe they only had to saw a foot or two away to get their shot. I know I wasn't there when these photos were recorded. Still, an amazing amount of detail can be made out in that blurry old enlargement . I'm almost certain that if that stump were one foot taller then you and I could actually make it out.

Of course, if the tree was visible in the distant background of photo 5, it would have been something positive for the current thought maintaining the body is a fake. It would have provided a good clue that the body was found on the lower open hillside.

But it's not up there. So this is yet another visual clue lending credibility to the body being actually found up at the "Sharpshooter's Home".

And, when you add the other clues which lead towards the body being found actually right there in between the boulders and this side of the rock wall, you must reasonably begin to doubt the truth in the belief that the famous "Sharpshooter's Home" photograph is a fake.

The Current "Sharpshooter's Home a Fake" Theory Considered

The currently accepted thought for the body being found down the hill, photographed four times, and then, on inspiration and in thoughts of making a better photograph, carried up the hill to the "Sharpshooter's Home", is based on a rationale. That rationale- which is a very good and obviously very easily accepted supposition- IS that there would be no reason to move the perfect body from the perfect position-that being the position between the boulders and wall of the "Sharpshooter's Home"-down the hill to another less promising position where the photographers struggled to make four more time-consuming and inferior shots.

This truly is a thought-provoking rationale. I can see where some might have difficulty finding a reason for moving the perfect body from the perfect photo position.

That said, I now address the issue of why the body was moved from its found position up the hill and hidden at its final position. And I do believe it was hidden.

The next time you pilgrimage to the Devil's Den part of the Battlefield, please perform the following silent and harmless act. Go to the rear of the "Sharpshooter's Home". Turn around in a circle and maybe walk around the rocks a little. Ask yourself this question -and never mind the ethical considerations:

"If I wanted to move and restage this "perfect" dead-body subject for some further photography, where would I drag it to?"

If you are like me (when I stood there and asked myself that same question) you would probably simply move the body out, then left or right a few yards, for, as you will see, there are plenty of great places to restage this body- and each place will look entirely different than the original Sharpshooter' Home"position. Nobody viewing your shots would ever know the difference.

Now, again scan the area in the rear of the "Home" and ask yourself this question: "If I wanted to HIDE this body so that nobody would find it and associate it with, or move it to, this terrific place where I found it, where would I drag it to?"

After panning the area, your eyes will quickly alight on one particular place -a spot about 70 yards down the hill! It really is the only suitable place. And when you get the body down there you will not stop until that body is all the way around that group of rocks- where it will be HIDDEN from any association with the "Sharpshooter's Home". Or so Gardner and O'Sullivan may have thought before they accidentally recorded photo number 5- in which the "Home" comes into blurry view in the background (enlargement already discussed)

To feel the weight of this observation you simply have to be there. Again, I encourage you to try it yourself.

Photo of Alfred Waud made by O'Sullivan in the Plum Run gorge--Devil's Den on the same day as the "Sharpshooter's Home" and "Sharpshooter's Last Sleep". All conditions indicate it was taken before the discovery of the sharpshooter's body.

Why Hide The Body?

Earlier in the same day the photographs were taken of the sharpshooter in his "home", Alfred Waud, an artist for the famed "Harper's Weekly" came riding or walking down the "valley of death", presumably from the wheatfield road. At that time the photographers were working in and around the Plum Run Gorge/ "Slaughter-Pen" area. They must have met Waud and exchanged pleasantries because O'Sullivan is recorded as taking a posed shot of Waud sitting atop a comfortable rock as if pretending to sketch the scene. You may be certain the photographers found out who Waud was and just whom he worked for. Although I am uncertain from what direction Waud came from or where he went after meeting the photographers, I feel it very likely he did not further interfere with his new-found acquaintances. Artists like to seek out and discover their own subject matter. Possibly Waud continued on down the gorge and proceeded to spend some time sketching a very accurate rendition of the lower gorge looking towards LRT. There is just such a sketch in existence at the Library of Congress

Allow me here to tell you something else about artists. We generally know when we have found and created something of merit. For the true artist, our work is our means of deriving self-worth, feelings of pride, and a sense of personal accomplishment. As such we abhor others who would copy our work, steal our ideas and attempt to take our discoveries away from us, thereby gleaning all those meritable awards for themselves. That stated to place the reader in the proper frame of mind, I continue with my rationale for moving the body.

Having looked at all the photographs taken in and around the gorge by Gardner, et al., I am pretty certain they were made during the morning hours. There is something about them that speaks of the light coming mostly from the eastern sky. Plus there is a noticeable ultraviolet hazing effect more likely derived from actual morning mist and humidity. The effect is so strong in the "Slaughter Pen" photographs that one can almost smell the damp earth.

One of the reasons these photographs show so well to our eyes from so long ago is the characteristic of being "taken" in an overcast lighting condition. The absence of sharp shadows helps us see things more clearly. I know this to be the case. I have taken my own photos of the "Sharpshooter's Home" while it is bathed in sunlight and its' resulting shadows. Even with our "modern" cameras things do not work out nearly so well as what comes across in O'Sullivan's work under an overcast sky.

Considering the light, my guess is the hour is after mid-day by the time the photographers discover the "Pristine" body lying within his "Home"and begin their finest work of their entire sojourn at Gettysburg. They are amazed at their luck and their find. As we now (hopefully) know they have found the "perfect body in the perfect place" and they are very much aware of the intrinsic photographic value of their find. Nowadays we might easily call their find a veritable Pulitzer Prize. They are absolutely elated! A slight raise and tilt of the dead soldier's head towards the camera and they are master war photographers.

But their prize may yet elude them. Why? Because, just maybe and very likely, some other photographer- perhaps just now descending onto the battlefield- may find and steal their prize!

Come to think of it....where is that Waud fellow? Is he still sketching away down in the gorge?

The photographers are well aware of what will happen if Waud should stumble across this particular body in this particular place- It will be cover material of "Harper's Weekly"! And very soon! Hence, Waud will receive the accolades and they, the photographers who rightfully discovered this "gem", will be deemed the copyists. They then become the loser.

And if not Waud, then the odds are good it will be someone else. And so, Gardner and O'Sullivan realize in short order that they must get their best shots and then destroy this scene for good and forever. They work quickly, possibly sending Gibson down into the gorge (or edge of the gorge) to keep an eye on and, if necessary, waylay Waud. After all, if Waud was indeed down there doing his sketch at that time then he was very- very- close to the actual sharpshooter site (less than 200 feet).

Of course, once the body was dragged down the hill and placed behind the shielding rocks, all worry of the discovery would cease. Photography could now resume at the photographer's leisure. Extra shots could and would be taken. There would now be just one consideration to worry about. That is, and above all else, they must not show the sharpshooter's facial features- otherwise he will be recognized and their act of moving the body will be known and condemned- a very serious breech of ethics

Speaking as an artist, I believe this is the primary reason why Gardner and O'Sullivan would move the perfect body from the perfect place and drag it down the hill. A secondary consideration would be the desire to obtain some more good photos of the corpse. As already mentioned, with his actual uniform dress and practically un-swollen condition (for an upside-down ear-portrait profile-view) the soldier was far from worthless as subject matter. In my judgement, photos 5, and, especially 6, are excellent. Of course, Photo 6 was later selected for inclusion in Gardner's "Photographic Sketchbook".

I would here begin a paragraph condemning Gardner and crew for their seemingly unscrupulous character if it were not for some latent sympathy I must feel for their cause. Although what they did then and later causes me to shake my head and cringe, I cannot go on without giving them a word of respect. Their work was good and of immeasurable value. Never mind that it sometimes caused false and misleading notions to be borne and spread about their violent time period. I have the luxury to be a witness to their acts from the innocuous distance and span of 135 years. I cannot know what unscrupulous acts they had to endure just to eat and make a liveable place for themselves as photographers in their time. It could not have been always so pleasant a livelihood. I do not envy them their place in time.