Wounded Union Soldiers
Wounded Union soldiers, many of them bandaged and on crutches, rest behind a U.S. Sanitary Commission facility on Charles Street in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The photograph, by James Gardner, was taken on May 20, 1864, and the men likely are casualties from either the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5–6) or the fighting that continued almost immediately after at Spotsylvania Court House. There, on May 12 and May 13, the Confederate and Union armies engaged in twenty-one hours of almost continual hand-to-hand fighting in what some historians argue was the most intense combat of the war.
Gardner's brother, Alexander, was the more famous photographer, having pictured the dead at Antietam in 1862 before establishing his own studio in Washington, D.C. Working for Gardner's Gallery and in competition with Mathew Brady's team of photographers, James Gardner here captured a tableau of especially weary-looking veterans. While a female Sanitary Commission employee holds a canteen at the ready, the man to her left stares blankly into the distance. The man smoking a pipe has the sleeve insignia of a first sergeant. The square-cross patch on his vest is the distinctive marker of the Army of the Potomac's Sixth Corps, whose longtime commander, "Uncle John" Sedgwick, was killed by a sniper on May 9, making him the highest-ranking Union casualty of the war. The two men to the far right of the photograph, meanwhile, have the features of American Indians, others of whom were photographed by Brady's team on the same day.