General Grant's Council of War, Massaponax Church, Virginia

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, born Ireland, 1840–1882)
May 21, 1864
Albumen silver print from glass negative
8.7 x 10.8cm (3 7/16 x 4 1/4in.)
Mount: 10.8 x 16.6cm (4 1/4 x 6 9/16in.)
Credit Line:
The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1986
Accession Number:
Not on view
This small, candid photograph—likely a half-stereo view—offers an illuminating “snapshot” of a typical late war meeting of Union generals, a “Council of War,” in a field near Massaponax, Virginia. The chaotic study is one of the most daring made by any Union photographer. To compose it, Timothy H. O’Sullivan transported his equipment to an upper window in the gallery of a Baptist church that offered a useful elevated perspective from which to view the scene. Ulysses S. Grant’s soldiers have removed the church pews and placed them under the trees; staff officers gather around to discuss the situation. Evidence suggests that it had been a disastrous day for the Union troops, as the losses were heavy and no strategic advantage had been gained. In the background are rows of horse-drawn baggage wagons and ambulances transporting supplies for the next day’s engagement and the wounded to field hospitals. In the foreground General Grant bends over a pew and looks over his shoulder at a large map held in the lap of General George Meade, head of the Army of the Potomac.
Inscription: Inscribed in negative on print, recto LL: "30", "18 [crossed out]", "12 [crossed out]"; inscribed in pencil on mount, recto LC: "Grant // Meade with [illegible]".
Paul Katz

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Recent Acquisitions: Drawings, Prints, and Photographs," September 20, 1988–January 8, 1989.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Photography and the American Civil War," April 2, 2013–September 2, 2013.

Gibbes Museum of Art. "Photography and the American Civil War," September 27, 2013–January 5, 2014.

New Orleans Museum of Art. "Photography and the American Civil War," January 31, 2014–May 4, 2014.

Negative date: May 21, 1864.