Saldly, perhaps one of the most famous photographs of the Battle of Gettysburg is a phony. While that’s not exactly news – now nearly four decades after the posed photograph was realized – the picture and the controversy brings attention to the sharpshooters themselves and the role they played in the battle, and specifically the fight for Little Round Top.
As the story goes, the photograph of a Confederate sharpshooter lying lifeless between two boulders and behind a stone barricade was taken by famous photographer Alexander Gardner and his two associates on July 5 or 6, just days after the battle.
More than 100 years later, it was because of the work of author and historian William Frassanito that the hoax was uncovered. Frassanito discovered that Gardner and his associates moved the body from nearby Triangular Field about 40 yards away into the sharpshooter’s position atop Devil’s Den, propped his weapon – though not a sharpshooter’s rifle – up against the stone wall and shot the photograph.
To make Gardner’s actions worse, he also “speculated on the dead soldier’s final moments in the sniper’s nest, adding that he found his bleached bones still lying in the nest while on a later visit to the site,” according to a National Park Service article.
Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding the photo has taken attention off the true tragedy of this young solder, his identity lost.
“The photo was staged, but the tragedy was real,” writes the Historical Marker Database. “A young man from the south lay dead, far from family and home.”
And the National Park Service writes, “the use of his body as a photographer’s prop should not detract from the tragedy of a life snuffed out in battle.”
For more on the story behind the Devil’s Den sharpshooter, check out this video by Licensed Battlefield Guide Bill Dowling on GettysburgDaily.com.
The controversy, however, managed to perhaps bring some additional attention to Devil’s Den and how the sharpshooters there played a role in the July 2 fight on Little Round Top.
The Gettysburg National Military Park has installed a marker at the site and it looks absolutely identical to the scene in the famous photograph. To see the sharpshooter’s position and the marker, make your way to Devil’s Den, past the parking lot and up to the top of Devil’s Den. The marker is along that hillside.
From that position, there’s a great view of the 44th New York monument (“the castle”) at the top of Little Round Top. One can only imagine the bloodshed between those two points on the battlefield.