Antietam- The location of Gardner's camera tripod at Bloody Lane
Alexander Gardner's Famous image of Sunken Road or Bloody Lane taken days after the battle, September 19, 1862. I visited this site for the first time August 23, 2009 and as a photographer myself I became highly interested where Gardner stood to gather these images. Antietam guide, William Sagle, took us through the battlefield and showed me this image for the first time. Standing at the Roulette Farm Lane intersection with Sunken Road. I could not visualize an interaction between this image and the existing terrain. Something just wasn't right. I thought perhaps the image was printed backwards. It would make more sense with hill contour and what appeared to be an upwards slope to the lane.... After I got home I analyzed the print in detail. The buttons on the the dead mans jacket are on his right meaning the print is correctly printed. So I got hooked on the problem and began further analysis.
Notice the shadow caused by the wood fence rail in the foreground and the shadows caused by the vertical twigs and the man standing by the ditch. I will try to duplicate these shadows at home on the same day and month of Gardners image to determine sun angles so I can better locate this spot. It is difficult to estimate the height of the rail and the distance of the body from the rail. I estimate the middle height of the 4 inch rail is 16 inches off the ground and the middle height of the shadow on the leg is 7 inches of the ground. I also estimate the horizontal middle of the rail is about 4 feet from the body.
I believe this image was taken somewhere along the inclined area of Bloody lane.
See next image.
As an after thought I decided to include in this journal the location where Bill Sagle first showed me the above image. Perhaps you can see my confusion comparing Gardner's image to the slope of the lane and the curvature of the hill. That's what caused me to first believe the image was printed backwards.
But fortunately I pursued the problem I had. Please keep reading.............................
I couldn't access a level but a water bottle is just as good. Placed in the center of the inclined pathway the incline measures 15 degrees from horizontal. (Angle between water and side of bottle.) But I can't be sure that was the angle of the pathway where Gardner stood. Likely it was somewhat less because I think he was higher up the lane where it gets flatter..
This is my attempt to duplicate the shadows in Gardner's image. I set up a box on a date as close to September 19th as possible where we had sun in Rochester, NY. That date was September 21, 2009. Now my concrete pool deck is level so I needed to adjust the data for an inclined plane of < 15 degrees because the east side of the lane rises at that angle. I placed a box where I estimated the leg to be at about four feet from my simulated 4 inch rail . The center of my "rail" is 16 inches off the ground. To accommodate the 15 degrees elevation difference either my rail must be higher or the shadow must be lower by a few inches. Thus when the sun elevation was such as to give a shadow three inches off the ground I measured the sun angle from north. I got 79 degrees on my compass shown in the bottle shadow. I called a family member in Leesburg VA and they measured a sun angle of 82 degrees at the same date and time. Thus the shadows caused by the sun of the twigs and man standing in Gardner's photo were at slightly less than 82 degrees since Antietam is about 45 minutes north of Leesburg. Now a close inspection of those shadows in Gardners image show them to be almost parallel to the ditch. This means the ditch direction where Gardner stood was 82 degrees from north.
Here is a map of Bloody Lane courtesy of National Parks Service, "Photography at Antietam - A Battlefield Tour". The left side of the lane is exactly 82 degrees while the right side is about 115 degrees. You can even put a protractor on this chart to confirm it. Therefore the point "E" which supposedly indicates where Gardner stood in this publication is incorrect. Gardner's images must have been taken somewhere between what today is the curve in the road at Richardson's Avenue and the curve in bloody Lane.
First estimate from a quick comparison to his photograph and the site: X marks the most likely spot for Gardner's tripod. Now here begins the problem. When looking at Gardner's image he is located high enough to see the mountains in the background but there appears to be a difference in the slope of the hill and the height of the left embankment. Something is wrong or different from what this site looks like today versus what it was like in 1862. Or something drastic may have happened to this landscape in the 150 years since his image was recorded. I hope in the following images to answer "What Happened if anything".
Overlay of the previous image from 1880 onto my image from October 25, 2009. Today's lane is a little wider. The fence on each side has been moved further out. A split rail fence rather than vertical fence with horizontal rails was added on the right (monument was added too) but the most important change is that there was a building located on the north side of the curve where the Lane inclines on the west end. This structure is known as the Ward House. It was purchased and removed by the National Park Service many years ago. Going back to the previous image for better detail...... notice that this building looks like it was a two story structure that had to have a foundation. In other words, when it was built and then removed there had to be some significant ground landscaping movement of earth.
There were 5000 men killed that morning at this location. The dead, including horses, had to be buried. They were usually buried where they fell except Sunken Road was a thoroughfare and had to be cleared. Frank H. Schell drew this wartime sketch showing trenches dug for the Confederates. It was printed in Frank Leslie's Illustrated, October 1862, ANB, The view looks southeast along the lane from the position of where the future Ward house would be built. Roullete Lane cuts through the center of the sketch. One eyewitness recalled that the dead "were in rows like the ties of a railroad, in heaps like sticks of wood."
Here is Gardner's original stereo pair. It is possible to see a great deal more in 3D stereo than possible in a single flat image. Of the two images above, the one that is normally printed is the right one. But the left one shows the lane going downhill and to the right at the end of the image. A point obscured by an emulsion defect on the right image. Thus Gardner was near the top of the hill. Secondly, in 3D one can see an significant depression in the earth going down about 6 to 8 feet directly behind the horse. Also proof he was near the top of the hill. This can not be seen in a flat image. With the Ward House construction and graves dug near by this area must have been completely filled in over the years.
This is where Gardner stood. Where I am standing to take this photo. You can see my shadow. My first estimate, a few images back, was close but 25 feet or so too far down the hill. I found this location by photographing 30 or more different locations along the upper Lane and then overlaying the Gardner image onto mine adjusted for size. This was one of the last images taken in the series and highest. When standing in the actual Lane comparing Gardner's image and the actual view your opinion is that you are too high. You can see in the following four images the Gardner image over lay, increasing in opacity for each image. Pay close attention to the background hill curvature.
This is 30% opacity. The monument is standing on what use to be a ground depression. And I think it is tilting backwards since the ground is not firm enough there. Go back and view a number of other images and the tilting monument is more illustrated. Most important in the overlay of these two images is alignment of the background hill curvature.
From Richardson Avenue this is the small hill that must be climbed to reach Gardner's position at the top. Imagine his impression as he saw the carnage.
Notice: Another mystery. There is a concrete wall buried in the middle of the road suggesting at one time the road here was lower. And it curves to the right. Why?