Sharpshooters Track Down Site Of '62 Photo Taken In Falmouth
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Author:  David Rider [ Thu Nov 06, 2008 8:51 am ]
Post subject:  Sharpshooters Track Down Site Of '62 Photo Taken In Falmouth

Modern Sharpshooters Track Down Site Of '62 Photo Taken In Falmouth
By David Rider and Randy Bartley

FALMOUTH, Va. — When a photograph of the seven-man guard detail comprised of members of the 2nd Regiment United States Sharpshooters was taken they did not look happy or rested, and with good reason.


They had been “volunteered” by their captain, Henry Caldwell, to stand guard for the Provost Marshal, Gen. John Gibbon, 4th U.S. Artillery, in Falmouth during June 1862. While this arrangement had certain advantages, mainly for the Sharpshooters’ captain and the provost marshal, the duty was brutal for the enlisted men.

In his diary, Wyman White wrote the men were required to pull a guard mount that amounted to two hours on duty and four hours off duty for five straight weeks. The men were also unhappy about their weapons. They were still armed with the Colt revolving rifle and not the Sharps rifle they had been promised.

It was therefore no surprise that when an unknown photographer asked the Provost Guard to stand still for a photograph in late May they did not appear “happy.” The photo of the Sharpshooters was one of the very few made of Col. Hiram Berdan’s vaunted “greencoats” in the field.

This rare photo became the subject of a puzzle pursued by members of the modern Co. C, 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters, and others for decades.

As with any good mystery, certain questions had to be resolved. Initially, the who, what, why, when and where were unknown. The general “who” was obvious and even the individual identities of the Sharpshooters became known.

The why, where and when were revealed with the publication of Wyman White’s diary. The photo was taken in Falmouth, Va., in probably late May or early June. The foliage is just coming in but the most revealing fact was that the Sharpshooters still had the very unpopular Colt rifles. These were not replaced until June when the overdue Sharps rifles finally arrived.

It was the “where” that attracted researchers. Although it was known that Falmouth was the general location of the photograph, the more specific location beguiled researchers for decades.

Falmouth was at that time on the front line. Across the Rappahannock River lay enemy territory, the Confederacy. Many of the homes in Falmouth were damaged during the war and many others were since lost to the ravages of time.

The greencoats were posed in front of an undamaged house with a distinctive feature. Finding this house with its distinctive transom became the focus of countless hours of speculation and even a few road trips to modern Falmouth.

All of this was fruitless until recently when David Rider, secretary and webmaster of Co. C, made contact with the Stafford County Historical Society which, in turn, put him in touch with Norman Schools in Falmouth. With Schools’ aid, Rider unraveled the Falmouth house mystery. Schools had the answers based on his study of wartime Falmouth.

The home was that of John O’Bannon. When this photograph was taken, Gen. John Gibbon was using the O’Bannon home as his headquarters. Photographs taken in the early years of the 20th century clearly depicted the transom and other features. According to Schools the O’Bannon house stood on Caroline Street (modern Butler Road). The location was fixed by Schools and Fredericksburg National Battlefield Park Historian John Hennessey.

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The efforts to locate the O’Bannon home were fruitless for a very good reason. The house no longer exists. The house built as a tavern during the Colonial period stood until the early 1950s. The last owner was listed as Eddie Brooks.

Diarist Wyman White said the greencoats were billeted in the Ford house opposite the O’Bannon house. If the O’Bannon house was gone, could the Ford house still be standing? Could that house exist creating a physical link with those marksmen of 146 years ago?

According to Schools, it was actually the “Forbes” house which was opposite the O’Bannon house, just as described by White. But it is no longer where it was during the Civil War. Happily, the house was not razed but moved in the 1970s.

Moving may not be the future for other historic structures in Falmouth. A plan by the Commonwealth of Virginia to enhance traffic would eliminate some of these structures. To raise the public’s awareness of this problem, members of Co. C will participate in an event on Sept. 19-21 2009 at the Falmouth home of Moncure Conway, an abolitionist who aided in the Underground Railroad efforts. See pictures of the event here: http://www.berdansharpshooters.com/falmouth2008/

The Conway house is also significant for the modern Sharpshooters. When Wyman White complained of the Provost Guard schedule he was incarcerated for one night, which he used to catch up on his sleep.

White made his case to Captain Caldwell and was assigned to guard the Conway house which was being used as a hospital. At the Conway House White did not do any duty after 9 p.m. “So as it turned out I had no fault to find with my night’s sleep in the guardhouse,” wrote White.

No doubt had a photograph been made of White at this time, he may have appeared much more content.

Information about Co. C, 2nd Regiment U.S. Sharpshooters (Berdan’s) is at http://www.BerdanSharpshooters.com.

Additional information about the Moncure Conway House may be found at http://www.MoncureConway.org

Author:  Bonnie Knott [ Sun Jan 11, 2009 10:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Sharpshooters Track Down Site Of '62 Photo Taken In Falmouth

What a great perspective of Falmouth! Interesting that the Route 1 bridge across the river from Fredericksburg today is in a different location than in the picture. Any idea what that circle is, in the center just to the right and somewhat above the tobacco warehouse? It looks to me like a cemetery but I am sure it is not. That would be about where Route 1 is today.
You've done a great job of investigation on the Sharpshooters and Falmouth, Dave. Perhaps whoever has the original image of them will now post to this board.

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