Ragged and Barefoot? Hardly!

In one of the most famous photographs of the Civil War, three captured Confederate soldiers, likely from Louisiana, pose for Mathew Brady on Seminary Ridge following the Battle of Gettysburg. The extraordinary clarity of the image allows viewers to study the soldiers’ uniforms and accoutrements, but the historian Shelby Foote has focused more on their body language.
“You see something in his attitude toward the camera that’s revealing of his nature,” he told the filmmaker Ken Burns, “… as if he is having his picture made but he’s determined to be the individual that he is.” Other scholars have challenged this romantic view.
Brady, who made about thirty images at Gettysburg and arrived after the dead had been buried, likely took the photograph on or about July 15. If that’s true, as Thomas A. Desjardin has argued, then these soldiers—none of whom seems to be wounded—were likely deserters captured well after the battle. (Prisoners taken in the fighting were marched off the field immediately.)
Meanwhile, a closer look at their uniforms reveals the soldiers to be much better dressed than tradition would have it. According to legend, the Battle of Gettysburg began only when barefoot Confederates entered the town looking for shoes. But Richard Pougher has used this photograph as evidence that “the common Confederate soldier in the Army of Northern Virginia was well dressed in Southern military uniforms, well-shod, and well accoutered … He was not the ragged, barefoot, poorly equipped individual in nondescript mix-and-match clothing so many have come to see him as.”


5 thoughts

  1. The one on the far left looks a lot like my ancestor Ross Floyd that served in the civil war in the confederate army in the 18th Georgia infantry. If I’m not mistaken the 18th Georgia along with the Texas brigade had fought along side the army of northern Virginia during the civil war.

    1. I believe prevailing thinking now is that 1862 was particularly rough on the average Confederate b/c ‘61 uniforms, shoes, etc. had worn out- and the national depot system had not taken hold.
      Meanwhile things were actually better 63-65 because the depot system was organized, large supplies of dark English/Irish kersey wool had gotten through the blockade, etc. Even more so than this picture of ‘63 rebels, 64-65 pictures show by-and-large well-clothed/supplied personnel.
      At any rate, very well could be that a very ragged, “barefooted” Confederate Army marched into Maryland in ‘62, but was better supplied by the time the Gettysburg campaign came around 9-10 months later…

  2. I’m struck by the fact that they all still have their blanket rolls and other possessions. The guys on the right and left even have so much stuff that you can’t imagine them marching with it. Maybe artillerymen or others who’d have had access to wagons? I doubt that they’d have carried that stuff in an assault and at Gettsysburg it was mostly Confederates assaulting Union positions. One other commentator noted that they may be deserters. Gettsysburg is a hell of a long way from home – especially if they are from Louisiana. Would a guy from Louisiana choose to desert in Pennsylvania? My guess would be that, rather than deserters, they’re stragglers.


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