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GENERALS GRANT AND LEE

I have posted images in the past from the battlefield where the Civil War once raged in Fredericksburg, Virginia, an area around which I even created a theme on Trekearth, My Daily Drive to Work. This is such a beautiful area that I sometimes envy myself for having regular access. The scene is in Lee’s Hill, bordering a golf course, and just down the hill from my house. But this beauty seen on Oct. 31, on a bright sunny day following a heavy rain, was the scene of a tragic fight between a pair of scorpions locked in mortal combat 146 years ago.

It was reported to have been a numbingly cold five days in December 1862 when 115,000 troops of the North (Union Army) engaged 73,000 troops of the South (Confederate Army). Civil War buffs might want to read about the generals who became larger than life figures — Burnside, Longstreet, McClellan, Hooker (indeed, whose name is said to give us the word for a prostitute), “Stonewall” Jackson, an indefatigable warrior whose name is associated with impregnable defense. Jackson was mortally wounded by “friendly fire” just six months later in the nearby Battle of Chancellorsville. It is not my purpose to give a detailed narrative of how the Battle of Fredericksburg unfolded in the immense natural amphitheater defined by the terrain, a battle that resulted in a stunning defeat for the North, and provided a false sense of confidence for the South. The North suffered around 13,000 casualties, and the South about 5,000. Eventually, by 1865, after half a million casualties had been inflicted on the two warring sides, the Civil War ground down to a halt, with the South vanquished by the more wealthy and industrial North. The war is regarded as a national disgrace, but it did save the Union. And ultimately it raised President Lincoln to the stratospheric heights occupied by only 2-3 other Presidents, among them Washington and Jefferson, as the greatest in the Nation’s history. In an unending tragedy, however, Lincoln would become a martyr of the war, assassinated a few months later, when he was shot while attending a theater in Washington, DC.

Among all the names of generals associated with the war, just two — Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee — are inseparably identified with the two sides, Grant with the North and Lee with the South. Grant and Lee had been classmates at the military institution, West Point, but emblematic of a war that pitted brother against brother, here it was two classmates commanding opposing forces in a fight for survival.

On a personal note, on September 6, 2008, my friends from National Geographic Books had joined us for dinner in Fredericksburg to celebrate the completion of our book, "Leonardo’s Universe." As I drove the senior editor of the book and her husband around Historic Fredericksburg, I found out that she, Lisa Thomas, was a direct descendant of General Grant, and he, Donald Thomas, a direct descendant of General Lee. What magnificent poetic irony! I dedicate this photograph to them.

Nikon D-200, 28-200 Nikkor lens, ISO-200; Mode: Aperture set on f/22, in order to maximize depth of field; tripod. The image could be sharper, but further post-processing started to produce the characteristic whitening around all the edges. Compositionally, I might have placed the dominant oak tree a little more to one side, but using the method of thirds, I believe, becomes a cliché. If I had been creating a landscape painting instead of a photograph, I would have framed the scene in this manner.

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Additional Photos by Bulent Atalay (batalay) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 6003 W: 457 N: 10420] (34889)
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