The Emperor, The New Clothes, and The Devil's Den Sharpshooter

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The "Devil's Den Sharpshooter"

Have you ever asked a question, then simply taken an answer as fact simply because an "authority figure" gave you that answer?  I think we all probably have.  The chief example has probably been when that authority figure was a parent or perhaps a teacher.

"Because I said so" is a reason we are all pretty familiar with when it comes to getting a qualified answer from our parents.  But, later on, do we also accept this same sort of argument from others?

I like to call it the "Emperor's New Clothes Argument".  Because even though we don't understand or believe what we're told, we believe it anyway because someone in authority spoke it to us.  And perhaps spoke it again and again. I mean we must be stupid or incompetent not to understand it. Some of you will remember this short Hans Christian Anderson book as a grade-schooler.  If you are not familiar you can find it on the web at –

"The Emperor's New Clothes" by Hans Christian Anderson 

Basically, a pair of tailors offered to create fabulous garments for an emperor.  Once paid, they began their work.  But the tailors only pretended they were working with invisible thread creating invisible fabric but claimed that only the smartest people in the kingdom could see their creation.  The idea was - if you couldn't see the garment, the emperor would know you were stupid.

So, when the tailors finished, the emperor was clothed in nothing at all!  He was naked!  But, everyone shuddered and they were afraid to speak the obvious because they feared they’d be called stupid for not being able to see the fine colors of the fine fabric!  Therefore, they went along with the tailors’ illusion.  All the people acted like they adored what the emperor was wearing!

It wasn't until a young child suddenly squealed, "The Emperor is naked", that the charade was recognized out loud!  And finally everyone felt comfortable enough to say "the Emperor has no clothes". 

But the emperor ignored the obvious and kept claiming what was not true.  After all, he was now too embarrassed to admit otherwise.

In daily life, there are many cases where we find "no clothing" when we critically examine an argument. And we shouldn't be afraid to say so.  What’s worse is when this sort of politics, mixed with hastily formed arguments, invades our public services sector of government.  But, it does, and here’s an excellent example.

This is a reasonably famous sequence of events to Civil War enthusiasts.  These events caused the Gettysburg National Military Park (GNMP) to revise it's own description of a particular historical event which took place on July fifth or sixth, in the year 1863.  Perhaps after reading this you can tell me, whether the “emperor”, uh, the GNMP, has no clothes.

Up until about the year 1961, this particular story, as the Park accepted it, was as follows.

Two to three days after the battle of Gettysburg, famed photographers arrived at the field.  Included among these was Alexander Gardner's team of photographers.  Though Gardner and his employees took all 6 photographs that are related to this incident (for a view of all 6 photos under consideration, click here), one of these 6 is generally considered to be the most famous ever taken on that battlefield or any other civil war battlefield.

This specific image (Photo 1) depicts a dead confederate sharpshooter (seemingly asleep as the body looked almost lifelike) between two large rocks.  Located behind the soldier is a wall of rocks that provided cover to this soldier during his participation in the battle.

Though the location of this photograph was never provided by the photographers, the rock formation in the photograph was found to be in what is now called the "Devil's Den" area of the military park.  And, until 1961, ninety-eight years after the battle, this photograph was generally believed to be just what it depicted.  A soldier found where he'd fallen in battle.  According to the photographer, Alexander Gardner, he was a sharpshooter.  Therefore, he became known as “the devil’s den sharpshooter”. Simple as that! And for almost 100 years, nobody came forward with any doubt regarding this story.

Almost one hundred years after this very famous photograph was taken, we begin to see the appearance of a "tailor" with magic yarn, similar to the tailors appearing in the Hans Christian Anderson classic.  This tailor isn't as nefarious as those in the fairy tale, but the results of his actions wind up having the same effect.

It all starts in an article that appeared in the October, 1961 edition of Civil War Times.  The article, written by Frederic Ray, the publication's "art director", points out an opinion that two photographs of the same dead body were taken at two different locations on the Gettysburg Battlefield.  Basically, the photographer, Alexander Gardner, is politely accused of a moral “no no”.  That of moving a corpse around the battlefield, then using that corpse as a "prop".

Though no detail is given on just what supports this opinion, most rational onlookers will admit that it is indeed a fact!  There it is, same photographer, same body, different locations!  End of story?  

Well, no, just the beginning.  Here's where the "tailor" begins innocently spinning his yarn, busily crafting that "suit of clothes" worthy of any emperor.  The "emperor" in this case eventually turns out to be the Gettysburg National Military Park ("GNMP").

While Ray points out correctly, and almost astonishingly (given the age of these two photographs and the fact that no one before had noticed in 98 years) that some monkey business is going on here, the author infers even more fact here than can be justified by what evidence he has provided.

In other words, we have a "suit of clothes" being fabricated.  I use the word "fabricated" because, while it appears obvious that the same body is used in both photographs, there is no evidence given by Ray as to which photograph was taken first, and which one uses the body as a prop.

However, this doesn't deter the "tailor".  Mr. Ray infers that Alexander Gardner moved the body "for the sake of better composition".  He states...

"It just appears he moved the body of a Confederate Sharpshooter at Gettysburg about a bit to get a better picture".

Now, what does he mean?  Which picture was taken first?  Which provides the "better composition", the "better picture".  Up to 1961, it is obvious that the most famous picture was that of the soldier lying in his "Sharpshooter's home" (Photo 1).  The other photograph, of the soldier lying in a field certainly was of much less significance (Photo 5).  And, Ray, having almost 100 years of hindsight as to the "better composition", seems to infer that the "home" photograph was taken last, and was staged.  What's this?  The most famous photograph taken during the Civil War faked?  

Hmmm...a curious assertion, and everyone is entitled to an opinion.  But should an opinion revise the history of this incident?  What facts is this opinion based on?  After all, a renowned historical figure is suddenly attacked for not only moving a body, but also staging the most famous civil war photograph we have!

So, is the "yarn" beginning to be spun that, obviously, the soldier was removed from the field where he actually fell, then posed between the rocks, at the rock wall for a "better composition"?  Was the famous "Devil's Den Sharpshooter" photograph faked or staged?

Ray never really boldly says so, but another point he makes seems to indicate that yes, this is what he thinks.

Mr. Ray points out that...

"A marker at the spot notes that Gardner returned some months after the battle and found the sharpshooter's remains which had been overlooked by burial parties."

This "marker", from context of the article, was posted by the park service at the location of the two large rocks and wall in 1961, and not in the field.

Assuming that Mr. Ray believes this marker is factual, then one must assume that this would have been the final resting place of the soldier.  The implication therefore is that the less interesting photographs were taken first of the soldier in the field where he was first discovered, and then Gardner and his assistants relocated the body to the rock wall formation for that "better composition".  Then they simply left it there, and moved on to take other photographs.

At the time of the writing of this article, in 1961, if we believed what Gardner had said about the remains, then we most certainly would conclude as Ray apparently did, the order of the photographs - first the field, then the wall.  There is no question that some readers of his article have concluded that this is exactly what Ray was saying in 1961.  I know this because I have found references to his articles on the internet.  And these articles make clear the order as if Ray had stated it himself.

Although Ray never does directly state his hypothesis, another "tailor", uh, writer, William A. Frassanito, picks up the "magic yarn" in his book, "Gettysburg - A Journey in Time", written in 1975.

In it, Frassanito states as fact - 

"Gardner's men first came upon the body of this soldier, probably a member of either the 1st Texas or the 17th Georgia, lying beside a large boulder on the southern slope of Devil's den".  (See Photo 4) 

The reader should keep in mind that at this time, William Frassanito's major purpose of his book was to locate modern views of the 1863 photographs taken just days after the battle.  It was not necessarily to judge the authenticity or lack thereof of these photographs and when and why they were taken.  For this reason, and the fact that he doesn't provide any evidence for this conclusion, I believe he felt he was simply restating someone else’s research.  A footnote to the Ray article also makes this pretty clear.

In "A Journey in Time", Frassanito's footnote states:

"42. To the author's knowledge, the first person to become aware of the fact that the body was moved to the stone wall from some other location was Mr. Frederic Ray, art director of 'Civil War Times Illustrated' (Frederic Ray, 'The Case of the Rearranged Corpse', Civil War Times Illustrated, October 1961:19)."

Stated as fact, Frassanito tells the reader that these photographs are of the same dead body, and that the order was the field view first (actually 4 different angles of this body were taken in the field - See Photos 3-6), then the body was relocated to the "stone wall constructed by Southern Soldiers sometime on the night of July 2"(This is the location of the more famous photograph - Photo 1). He merely adds a little more flamboyance to Ray's narrative by saying...

"In what must have been a flash of creative excitement, the cameramen chose to improvise..." 

He then simply states that the body was moved from the original position in the field (Photos 3, 4, 5, and 6), to the rock wall area (Photos 1-2) and left there.

Just like Ray, Frassanito provides no evidence, and in fact, the author seems merely to restate Ray's original discovery.  He uses a footnote to Ray's 1961 article as the only means to support the continuing "yarn".   But, in all fairness to Mr. Frassanito, he does categorically tell us, no question, of the order of the photographs.  We don't have to make inference as was the case with Ray's article.

So, now, the tailoring is in high gear!  So far, the order of events which took place in the Devil's Den in 1863, has been "weaved" by merely stating an opinion, then having that opinion simply restated.  Neither writer has even approached anything resembling evidence.  Just like all of the emperor's subjects telling each other what a fine suit of clothing the emperor was wearing!  

But, saying so doesn't make it so!  Opinions are not evidence! 

Before I continue, I do wish to point out that, unlike the tailors of the fairy tale, these two "tailors" are not malicious, they have simply stumbled into this "yarn spinning".  Ray, for his part, doesn't tell us in an out and out way what he thinks.  He merely suggests a theory, and Frassanito simply thinks he's repeating old truths, and gives credit for same.  However, this being said, stating and restating such a "fact" without proper argument, especially when related to an historical circumstance is "spinning" the yarn.

Was it enough "yarn" to convince the Gettysburg National Military Park (GNMP) to change the signage which existed at the site of the most famous photograph taken on the battlefield?

Turns out that the Park loved the "suit of clothes" it saw!  After all, "experts" had pointed out the “truth”.  The new park signage now points out the "fact" that the famous photograph of the "Devil's Den Sharpshooter" was "posed" by Gardner, and that the body had been dragged up the hill from its initial and "true" natural location.  The dead body was simply borrowed from another location to achieve a better composition.  It is quite unimaginable that a soldier could have been found killed at the "wall".  But why??  No facts have yet been presented!

Today, every tourist is given the same story about the "faked" photograph.  I was subjected to this "yarn" when I visited so I know firsthand how those "new clothes" of revisionist history are fitting!  Generally there is a “ohh...” of disappointment on the part of the onlookers when told of the fake.

The astute web researcher will even find the story repeated on the Library of Congress Website as an example of how photographers can fake photographs in order to meet with a sympathetic audience.   (Click here for the LOC's web page)

But I return to the "yarn" given - the proof of Gardner's grand illusion.  Where is it?  And what in the world is the GNMP thinking?  Is the "most famous photograph ever taken during the civil war" a fake?  If it is, certainly this charge is so serious, we need serious evidence to support it.  But, so far, all we have is "invisible thread".

The critical reader of both Ray's article and Frassanito's 1975 book must agree that it's only an opinion expressed with no foundation or effort to prove conclusively that the "clothes made of this magic yarn" are indeed visible.  And yet, the GNMP entirely revised its historical teaching of over 100 years based on this "yarn".  How can this be?

Now, pausing for a moment, the reader may ask, "Didn't you say that Gardner himself said he viewed the body months later at the location of the rock wall?".  And doesn't that mean that the photo at the wall was taken last?"

OK, good point, but don't we now know something that Gardner didn't want us to know?  That is, he took two photographs of the same soldier after having moved a dead body from one location to the other.  To keep up appearances, he could certainly have written such a piece about seeing the body months later.

To be sure, at the time of Gardner's writing, it's clear that the knowledge of this site wasn't nearly what it is today. Didn’t he describe it as “a lonely place”? Can we give Gardner credit for being omniscient enough to "know" that a great Military Park with tour guides and car routes would eventually make all points on this battlefield popular?  Perhaps he knew that even 100 years later, people would still be fascinated by the Civil War and mass distribution of civil war magazines would be possible thanks to the US Postal Service?  

I reason that something more rational would be that Gardner felt that perhaps only his photograph and story would exist to future generations as evidence of what happened.   Gardner is certainly an authority of the time!  So, perhaps Gardner was yet another example of a "tailor" using his authority to weave a "magic yarn"?  But, all conjecture aside, don't you think that we need to watch what Gardner says about these two photographs? He's created two different soldiers in two different places, and he's got a story for each!

Regardless of which photograph was taken first, we do know that Gardner plays fast and loose with the truth.  Would he make a truthful witness concerning these events?  I think not.  So, perhaps its best to ignore what he writes, and simply examine the photographs for evidence.  But do we see this being done by the two writers?  Not even a little bit.

Moving on, we continue to see the "yarn" weaved.  This time, twenty years after his first book that covered the matter based on Ray's article, Mr. Frassanito returns, with coverage in a new book - "Early Photography at Gettysburg" (1995).  

By this time, it is widely accepted as fact that the order of composition was: one, soldier is found in the field, four photos are taken; two, he's moved to that famous location at the wall and two more are taken.  And this conclusion, evidently, results from the 1975 book.

Having researched references to Mr. Frassanito's views on this subject alone, I have continually found that his "evidence" in his first book of 1975 is mentioned most prominently as the basis for the "facts", and it is true that prior to 1995 the Park had already changed its theory on the matter.  I've also learned that Frassanito worked as a tour guide at the park.  Perhaps this lent greater weight to that opinion expressed by himself and Ray. 

At any rate, by the time of his second exposé on the matter, Frassanito writes with more confidence and in fact expresses within a footnote that while Ray must be given credit for discovering the "rearranged corpse", that it is he, not Ray who is solely responsible for "discovering" the "true" order of the photographs.  Frassanito takes full credit for his "yarn", contradicting his earlier 1975 footnoted credit to Ray.  

Perhaps now is the first time that one of the tailors appears almost malicious when spinning the evidence.  He alone is the "Park's Tailor" and the Park is quite happy with the clothes he's weaved!  Ray is forgotten! 

In 1995, in his new book, Frassanito now helps us recapture the basics of his "argument".  He leads us into his four paragraph "proof" this way, having had 20 years now, to weave this yarn so that the reader has to be stupid not to "see it" - he writes...

"The next topic I would like to discuss pertains to the issue of how I was able to determine that the soldier was moved to the wall from the other position, and not to the other position from the wall." (note the use of "I", he’s now taking full credit for the discovery)

As I began reading this, it was like I was going to learn the very truth of creation!  Here was going to be a logical proof, laid out, clear to everyone, based on over 20 years of research, with no wiggle room!  The type of reasoning necessary to remake the most famous civil war photograph into a concoction of a deceitful Alexander Gardner.  Mr. Gardner's reputation is at stake here, so this is no small claim that Frassanito makes, and this time, he's claiming full responsibility for his "fact".

He continues in his book...

"Understandably, Gardner never alluded to the movement of the body in his captions or descriptions, the lengthiest of which was published in his Sketch Book of 1866 (Plates 40 and 41).  Rather, Gardner clearly intended to leave the impression that two different bodies had been photographed at different positions." (Didn't I say earlier that we must watch what Mr. Gardner says?  I think Frassanito agrees.)

So, then how would Frassanito prove that one picture was taken before the other?  And do it so convincingly that the Park, having now changed its views to accord with the Frassanito "yarn", would feel safe that the clothing it now wears is not "see through" as were the emperor's new clothes?  Frassanito writes the following...

"Though the following evidence is therefore circumstantial, it is nevertheless weighty."

I do not wish to continue Frassanito's argument verbatim, but I welcome the reader to research this book to determine just how "weighty" this argument turns out to be, word for word.  Those words are paraphrased here.

After this introductory statement, the author expends paragraph one simply stating that Gardner was fascinated with the location downhill (away from the rock wall) enough to take four different views of it.  He notes this to be "very unusual" but doesn't state a reason why it is unusual except to say because it's a "lone body".  But then he also states that they must have been looking for the "right composition"., having taken pictures myself, I find this very usual and a natural reason to take several pictures of the same object.  So, his reasoning confuses me just a bit.  Seems he answers his own question here.  He further states...

" is reasonable to conclude that Gardner found this individual body to be more compelling than any other bodies he and his crew photographed at Gettysburg."

I must state again, I found little argument in the paragraph that was not answered entirely by the author in that same paragraph.  But, these questions and answers notwithstanding, the fact is that, so far, nothing in the paragraph relates to the order of pictures and a reason why Frassanito has enough "weighty” evidence to convince the Park or anyone else of his findings. 

What he is telling us is that Gardner found this individual body more compelling than others and therefore he took several photographs of it.  Simple as that.  And Frassanito says as much.  No argument there.

In the next paragraph (there are only four in total to encapsulate his entire argument), Frassanito continues describing more reasons why Gardner liked this body so much.  For one, it wasn't bloated like others on the field.  Once again, nothing to indicate in what sequence Gardner shot the photographs.   C'mon, I'm growing impatient!  What about the order of the photographs?

Frassanito then continues his "weighty" evidence in the third paragraph which tells us what is probably a fact, that Gardner only took two photographs at the wall and explains this action by saying...

"Obviously Gardner considered the "sharpshooter's covert" to be an ideal back-drop for this soldier, and saw no need to move the camera around in search of a more interesting perspective."

So, in paragraph three, Frassanito details a reason why Gardner shot two photographs at the wall from the same angle, but once again, fails to mention any argument as to which set of photographs was taken first.  His final paragraph, his conclusion, based on the "weighty evidence" (given so far?) goes this way, and I quote this in its entirety...

"In short, it simply would have made no sense for the cameramen to find the ideal body at the ideal location; then, for no apparent reason, move the corpse 72 yards to a comparatively nondescript location; and then proceed to expend four negatives while experimenting with different camera angles.  We may therefore conclude that the body was moved to the wall, and not away from it."

That's it! Are you as shocked as I am that we've come to the end of Frassanito's self-described "weighty" argument and he has merely stated his opinion?  Don't we wish everything in life could be swept aside if it makes "no sense" to us?  Murder doesn't make sense to me, but yet people do murder other people. 

So, here's what Frassanito has told us.  Aside from raising a question as to why Gardner would have photographed the subject down the hill (a valid question, but not evidentiary), his statement is very similar to what can be induced as "Ray's Theory" of 1961.  Frassanito simply tells us that Gardner moved the body to the wall for a better composition so as to get a better picture.

Now, after all the evidence is presented, we have no better idea which pictures were taken first and which were taken last.  And yet, the Park Service saw fit to change, yes, revise over 100 years of history based on the simple opinions of two modern writers.   And, Alexander Gardner's credit for taking that photograph is left hanging in the balance!

Now we come back to my premise, the premise of the "Emperor's New Clothes".  Why does an opinion count to the Park service so much?  It can only be that, since there is no evidence, that politics, just as in the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, are still alive and working their magic yarn.

Based on my reporting of what has been written by Ray and Frassanito, did you find their "yarn" to be based on solid evidence or, simply, "magical"?  I urge you to read each author yourself, word for word.  The Ray article is obscure but you might ask the GNMP for a copy of it.  

Now, if you're unhappy about the current theory of this "case", you might ask: is there a contrary view on the subject of the Devil's Den Sharpshooter?  Is there proof of a counter claim - that the "wall photographs" were indeed taken first, and that the body was then moved to the other location for a very good reason?  Or is there nothing on the subject?

The fact that there is or isn't evidence to the contrary isn't even important when simply considering the reason why an agency of the United States federal government (the Department of the Interior) would revise the battle's history on a simple opinion without facts.  No matter whose opinion it is or how many others take that same opinion.

But it pleasures me to let you know that not only is there no evidence given by either Ray or Frassanito as to why they believe that the "wall photographs" are "posed" but, in 1998, there was substantial evidence provided that supports the contrary view.  

This view was published in North and South Magazine (volume 1 issue 7) in an article entitled "DEVIL'S DEN: DEATH OF A SHARPSHOOTER" by James C. Groves.  The reader may also find the full text of the original report authored by Mr. Groves on the internet - see  "The Devil's Den Sharpshooter Re-Discovered"

However, our park service, yes, the folks at the GNMP, have seen this evidence and remain steadfast in their adoption of the "magic yarn" created by Ray and Frassanito.  The Park is still “naked”.

Update - July 4th, 2005 - Independence Day 2005 and now there's no question of the authenticity of the Devil's Den Sharpshooter!  In his 1998 essay, Mr. Groves presents a very well laid out argument on the photo's authenticity.  At the end of that essay Mr. Groves presents what he calls the "smoking gun", the absolute proof of his position, and it's available to anyone who wants to see it.

Basically, his argument goes this way.  In the photo of the dead sharpshooter, in the den, there's a rock lying on the lower right leg of the soldier.  Also, in the photos that show that same right leg while the soldier is lying in the field, there is a noticeable "crater" ironed into the soldier's right pant leg. 

The logic is infallible: which came first, the rock lying on the leg, through a couple days of rainy downpour, thus creating that visible impression in the pantleg as seen in the downhill photos, or did Gardner somehow notice that crater while snapping the downhill views, then decide to place that rock on the right lower pantleg of the soldier after moving him into the "arranged position" at the sharpshooter's nest?

If the reader can see that rock in the photos shown, as Mr. Groves claims he can, there is no other rational explanation as to which photos were taken first.  The soldier had to be lying beneath that rock, when first discovered, and therefore, the pictures at the wall were taken first.

The park is aware of Mr. Groves' evidence but they claim that "it is not a rock lying on the right pantleg.  It is merely the rumpled pantleg of the soldier".  As to the downhill view, the park maintains that the "crater" Mr. Groves describes is therefore unimportant, since there is no rock on the pantleg in the up hill photo.  What makes Mr. Groves so sure, while the park service continues to insist he's full of hot air?

Since 1998 Mr. Groves has been in the possession of what Mr. Frassanito described in his book as a "failed stereo image" of the soldier in the devil's den.  Wouldn't it be nice if this stereo image actually did depict a 3-dimensional rock lying on the dead soldier's right pantleg. 

Well, it turns out that Mr. Frassanito is wrong about that failed 3-D stereo and in fact, it does show the fallen soldier in 3-D along with that rock which the park service claims doesn't exist except in the mind of Mr. Groves.

The reader is encouraged to look over this photo himself, using his computer.  A new technology allows almost anyone to view a stereo image on their computer and the stereo image in question is now available, for the first time, for view.  After over 140 years, and 30 years after Mr. Frassanito presumed that stereo to be worthless, you can judge for yourself.

In order to view this image, please follow exactly the directions given below.

Viewing the Stereo Image - before attempting to view this image on your computer, keep in mind that the original image was designed to be looked at using a stereo viewer.  In place of a stereo viewer the reader must examine the following website for information on how to train his or her eyes to see the image.  Please go to this link, then after learning the techniques described, return here and read further to learn how to view the "failed stereo" for yourself, and you decide if that's a rock lying on that pant leg.


Warning, only proceed with this next step IF you have trained your eyes to view stereo images using the information on the site listed above.

Now that you've familiarized yourself with the techniques that I'll call the "cross-eyed focus" technique, you will now probably be able to see the stereo image of the authentic "Devil's Den Sharpshooter", complete with small boulder atop his lower right pant leg.  

What you see above is a partial Left and Right Hand image of a portion of the "Failed Stereo Photograph" of the Devil's Den Sharpshooter (to view the full stereo use the link above).  Using the techniques of stereo viewing, a viewer can actually see the 3 dimensional object lying on the soldier's pantleg.

What you see above is a partial Left and Right Hand image of a portion a stereo of the sharpshooter lying in the downhill location.  To view this full stereo of the Sharpshooter in the downhill location use the link below.  Using the techniques of stereo viewing, a viewer can actually see the 3 dimensional depression in the pantleg beginning just above the right shoe.  It's pretty obvious, even without the 3D look, that there is an obvious depression in the pantleg of the soldier lying in the field.

The Author's purpose in writing this exposé is merely to point the reader to arguments on both sides, then let you decide whether you think something may be "afoul" here.  Perhaps you will be a "young child" who steps forward and tells the park service, "You’re naked!!" 

"The Devil's Den Sharpshooter Re-Discovered" - click here for the contrary evidence to Ray and Frassanito presented by artist James C. Groves. 

It is up to the reader to make up his or her mind and I encourage the reader to look up the referenced works.  I also encourage readers to contact the park if they feel that the Groves report makes more sense to them than do the contrary opinions expressed by Ray and Frassanito.