Sunday, March 15, 2015

The pictures I wish I had.

Every so often, some message will be floating around on facebook that goes something along these lines: "If you could go back in history for one day to observe something, when and where would you go?" Or, "If you could talk for one hour with just one person from the past, who would it be?" I've kind of developed an answer of my own. I would not want to go back for a day to observe something, but I would want to go back with a camera to take a few pictures of places and people to fill in the gaps and gather images we need to have today. Such a list could go on and on, and researching and writing The Capitals of the Confederacy has brought to the forefront my desire for several images I wish we could have. So here is my short list, an inventory of photographs I wish I could have had to complement The Capitals of the Confederacy.

1. Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens together, maybe even on inauguration day. I'd probably take this photo in Montgomery, namely because it rained when Davis and Stephens were inaugurated in Richmond. I would want a photograph of Davis and Stephens, a close-up on the portico of the Alabama state house in Montgomery, standing side by side, or, maybe Davis sitting and Stephens sitting, because Stephens was so small. While I am in Montgomery, I might try to get photos of the various buildings while they were being used by the Confederate government, and maybe one of Toombs, Stephens, the Cobbs, and Rhett together.

2. When the Confederate government moved to Richmond, they acquired several buildings to use as government offices. One of those buildings was the Old United States Custom's House. Davis's executive office was located in the judge's chamber. The court room was turned into a cabinet meeting room and war planning office. According to one later history, the walls were covered with large maps of both the new Confederacy and the surrounding border states. A picture of Davis's office, and the cabinet meeting would be grand. Of course, while in Richmond, there are other photographs I would take: The Confederate House and Senate chambers, in the Virginia State House, with the members at their desks. A picture of Davis's office at Spotswood Hotel (room 83) would also be nice. There are many other photos I would take in Richmond - the interior of Chimborazo, Winder, and Jackson Hospitals; the matrons and slaves/free persons of color working at those hospitals; ladies making uniforms; Camp Lee; the prostitutes who lived in Screamerville;  the gravediggers plying their trade in Hollywood and Oakwood Cemeteries; Davis and his cabinet; the aftermath of the bread riots in 1863; Stonewall Jackson's funeral.... This list could probably go on for a couple of pages, but those listed would be in my top ten.

3. Following the fall of Petersburg, many left Richmond for Danville. Off the top of my head, I am not aware of any war-time photographs of Danville. I am aware of post-war photographs of some of the tobacco warehouses used as Federal prisoners, and of the Sutherlin Mansion, and a few other structures. How about a war-time photo of the Sutherlins in front of their grand home, or maybe with Davis in the front parlor? A photo of the defenses constructed outside the town would also be nice.

4. A number of war-time buildings in Danville still exist, so it is possible to get a feel for the war-time era. In Greensboro, where Davis and cabinet went next, there is really not much to see. The building that Davis stayed in is gone, and likewise, the buildings connected with the train depot. A photograph of the boxcar that the cabinet used while in Greensboro, or maybe the headquarters train of P. G. T. Beauregard would have been awesome.

5. I am quite certain that there are no war-time photos of Charlotte. I, along with other folks, have searched for years. Davis standing on the front porch of the Bates home, making his speech, would have been grand. Maybe a photo of the CS Naval works in Charlotte, the meeting of the cabinet in the bank, or even at the Phifer home around the sickbed of Trenholm would be outstanding. Or a war-time photo of the old US mint building, where the CS treasury was temporarily deposited, or even the US soldiers who garrisoned the town after the war was over. A big wish would be D. H. Hill, James H. Lane, and Charles C. Lee with the Cadets of the North Carolina Military Institute before they marched off to serve as drill masters would help me highlight several books.

I guess this list could go on and on - I would probably spend a lot of time photographing men in the field, Lee and his staff in front of his headquarters tent, various regiments in the mid-war time frame in line of battle with their colors unfurled, Lee and Jackson together. The battle fields of Chickamauga, Resaca, and Kolb's Farm right the battles there. Yes, this list could go on and on and on......

The woodcut above is an idealized image of Davis and his first cabinet. To my knowledge (and about everyone else's, too) it is not based on an actual photograph, but it would be fantastic to have such a photo of Davis and the entire cabinet together.

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