Historic & Modern Photographs: Do They Match?

Ever since 2019 when I wrote about this photograph of U.S. Sanitary Commission members in Fredericksburg, Virginia, for Emerging Civil War, I’ve wanted to try to match the historic photographs to the location as it appears today. I have an on-going file of information about the USSC during the Overland Campaign and it’s fun to pull it out and work on pieces of research as time allows.

So…one chilly evening this month, I decided to re-approach the challenge of “locating” the photo in downtown Fredericksburg.

Fortunately, there are a few other photographs from the same month/period and while the posed photograph with the people did not seem to have any clues at first, there may be one in the upper right hand corner. Check out the roof line and chimney!

Exhibit A (Source at end of article)

Now, look at this photograph. Looks like the same roof line and chimney to me…now on the left. Even the half-circle window matches. The good news? The rest of this photograph features the Baptist Church in downtown Fredericksburg which has stood since 1855. (And, yes, the same image is repeated in this view.)

According to Library of Congress cataloging, the “people photo” was taking a “Cooking Tent of the U.S. Sanitary Commission.” And it should be noted that there are several photographed Sanitary Commission headquarters locations from around Fredericksburg. (More research coming!)

Camera in hand, I headed into downtown one morning to see if I could get some photos to match locations!

Just across from the Baptist Church stand some historical interpretive signs, including the previous photograph. The signs explained that the house with the half-circle window no longer stands but was basically where the signs are today, at the corner of a modern parking lot.

The house with the half-circle window is gone and this is confirmed by a local historical sign. But I think we’re getting closer to the right location!

I walked through the lot and then along an apartment housing community within the same block. I didn’t want to take too many photos or seem like a creepy person. But seeing what could be seen, I think it’s a safe guess to put the group photograph’s location within the city block bordered by Princess Anne Street, William Street, Charles Street, and Amelia Street. I’m guessing closer to Charles Street and probably toward the back corner? (Still a work in progress, but one that can hopefully be confirmed with some written documentation later on.)

It was a chilly winter morning when I was in downtown and as I walked through the block area, I noticed that the modern ministry New Generation Outreach at Mar’s Hill is located in the block where I think the Sanitary Commission had one of their distribution points in Civil War era Fredericksburg. Why does this matter?

According to their Facebook page… “It is the express purpose of the New Generation Outreach to serve the street people and the less fortunate of the Fredericksburg community.” I thought it was a beautiful, hopeful thing to find a modern ministry doing community outreach at or very near the same location where U.S. Sanitary Commission workers and volunteers labored to bring food, clothing, and medical aid to the sick and injured soldiers. A little reminder that in the midst of difficulty and crisis, there are warm-hearted people in every generation who seek to meet the needs of those around them.


Published by Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, author, speaker, and researcher. Past and present, everyone has a story. What will we discover and discuss?

2 thoughts on “Historic & Modern Photographs: Do They Match?

  1. Sarah–Congrats on your new blog; looking foward to it. I hadn’t connected the dots that you were the person who flagged this series of photos at Fredericksburg. Also of note, I’ve read (perhaps from you?) that the woman on the left may be Frank Barlow’s 1st wife Arabella? As you know, the site of the possibly final shot in this series, with the wounded soldier on crutches in a doorway, is still accessible. –S.

    Liked by 1 person

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