|Lest Darkness Fall|
Wartime photographer, Thomas C. Roche, left a profound legacy with his images taken on
April 3, 1865. Roche captured a number of scenes of fallen Confederate soldiers, all of whom had perished the day before at the Battle of Petersburg, most at Fort Mahone. Roche’s intent was doubtless to document the Northerners’ victory over a prostrate South, highlighted by images of vanquished Confederate dead. More universally, Roche conveys the tragedy of war, and the waste of human life and noble spirit. He also, unwittingly provided a valuable record of the Confederate soldier’s uniform, arms and equipment in the last days of the war. It is this aspect that we turn our attention to now.
I have considered a number of factors in this study, to include jackets, pants, hats, shoes, socks, greatcoats, shirts, drawers and vests. I have also considered rifles, accoutrements, canteens, haversacks, blankets and bedrolls, and cups. Finally, I have noted the ages of the soldiers, and the grooming of their hair and beards. The purpose throughout has been to paint a picture of what the average “Johnny Reb” in Lee’s Virginia Army looked like in the closing days of the war. The comparisons include all fifteen fallen Confederate soldiers in Roche’s Petersburg images. Most of these soldiers appear to have been infantrymen, due to their accoutrements, rifles or positions in the trenches. I have assigned each of the subjects (fallen soldiers) with a number based on the last two digits of the Library of Congress number used to catalog Roche’s images. Each individual soldier is shown in pictures 1 though 15.
In completing this study, I have used images of dead men, often grotesque, to illustrate points of material culture. My intent is not to dishonor the memory of these fallen Southerners, but to awaken interest in their story and plight, and heighten appreciation for our Southern heritage.