November 15, 2013
Why Are These Civil War Soldiers Reading The Atlantic During a Cockfight?

In June 1864, Union General Ulysses S. Grant launched a 10-month siege of the strategically important railroad hub at Petersburg, Virginia. Throughout that time, Civil War photographers were on hand to capture hundreds of battlefield and camp scenes on glass plates. Washington-based Alexander Gardner sent two photographers into the field—Timothy O’Sullivan and David Knox.
 As the siege was getting under way, O’Sullivan and Knox took two photos of a cock fight about to begin. Here, Union General Orlando B. Willcox (seated, center) and his staff gather around to watch as camp servants prepare to release the fowl for a fight to the death. Two of the soldiers hold small whips. Alcohol and cigars round out the brutal but genteel scene. A young soldier smiles broadly—a rare occurrence in Civil War photographs.
By zooming into the original glass plate negatives, another refinement emerges: Staff officer Levi C. Brackett, serving on General Willcox’s staff, is displaying a copy of The Atlantic in both cock-fighting photos. It is the latest issue: July 1864.
Read more. [Image: Timothy O’Sullivan and David Knox]

Why Are These Civil War Soldiers Reading The Atlantic During a Cockfight?

In June 1864, Union General Ulysses S. Grant launched a 10-month siege of the strategically important railroad hub at Petersburg, Virginia. Throughout that time, Civil War photographers were on hand to capture hundreds of battlefield and camp scenes on glass plates. Washington-based Alexander Gardner sent two photographers into the field—Timothy O’Sullivan and David Knox.

 As the siege was getting under way, O’Sullivan and Knox took two photos of a cock fight about to begin. Here, Union General Orlando B. Willcox (seated, center) and his staff gather around to watch as camp servants prepare to release the fowl for a fight to the death. Two of the soldiers hold small whips. Alcohol and cigars round out the brutal but genteel scene. A young soldier smiles broadly—a rare occurrence in Civil War photographs.

By zooming into the original glass plate negatives, another refinement emerges: Staff officer Levi C. Brackett, serving on General Willcox’s staff, is displaying a copy of The Atlantic in both cock-fighting photos. It is the latest issue: July 1864.

Read more. [Image: Timothy O’Sullivan and David Knox]

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