Tonight on Caption-Busters: That Battery L, 2nd New York photo….

In my opinion, Public Broadcasting or one of the various documentary cable channels would do well with a series that explores old photos (not just Civil War photos, but you know where my preference would be) and matches them up to specific locations, times, and persons.  Certainly there are interesting stories as to how the image got onto glass plate.  Beyond that, there are so many cases where the photo is not what we think it is.  Such is the case of the Battery L, 2nd New York photo from yesterday’s post:


There is no doubt the photo was taken at Fort C.F. Smith, with the nice sign there in the background.  But as I said yesterday, the service record of Battery L does not place it at Fort C.F. Smith… at least not long enough for any reporting period.  So that is a question which needed to be resolved.

When preparing the post, my first take on the gun was that it appeared to be a Napoleon.  Then I looked at the muzzle, which under low resolution appeared to extend straight to the length expected for the Ordnance Rifle.  The color of the tube, in black and white, may be bronze or it may be the natural metal color.  But if we go for the latter, then another question comes into play – why was it not painted?

Two strikes.  But I figured if the Library of Congress retained the caption and the New York State Military Museum agreed, then maybe I shouldn’t ask any more questions.

Reader John Wells further questioned the photo.  And that prompted me to start looking in higher resolution.  And particularly the muzzle:


Maybe it is straight.  Looks more like a muzzle swell to me.  But with whatever is draped over the muzzle in the way, hard to tell.  (Doesn’t that look like a vest laying over the muzzle?)

So a breaking ball on the corner… and the umpire is not in a generous mood.  A foul ball.  Still two strikes.

But, we have a pitcher’s count.  And here’s the put away pitch:


Hat brass – this is not Battery L.  Appears to be Battery K of some regiment other than the second. Looks like a one to me.  But Benjamin Cooling’s Mr. Lincoln’s Forts mentions Battery K, 2nd New York Heavy rotating through the fort during the war (and likewise identified the battery in the photo we are questioning).

So clearly not Battery L. And I’d even have to question the regiment’s identification when noting the badge on the fellow to the right of the snip (above).  Is that a corps badge?  Second Corps? Fifth Corps?  Sixth Corps?

Two others have similar badges, including the fellow on the left leaning on the wheel:


But the badge is on the left breast, not the right.

Though I would point out, there is a mixture of artillery and infantry accouterments (cap pouches and bayonet frogs) among the crew.

Lesson re-learned… never trust Library of Congress captions.  Not that the Library is suspect.  Not at all. Rather the information passed to them, often from the original distributor of the printed image, is sometimes… too many times… suspect.



2 thoughts on “Tonight on Caption-Busters: That Battery L, 2nd New York photo….

  1. Interesting (as always). While we’re on this subject, any thoughts on the identity of the battery famously photographed by O’Sullivan crossing a stream allegedly near Cedar Mountain on August 9, 1862? Without closer resolution, it seems to be equipped with 3″ ordnance rifles but I haven’t found anything in available sources which would yield further clues. I’m guessing it was earlier in the day, given the distinct appearance of a lack of urgency among those involved and the fact that the fighting in earnest was late afternoon.

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