A Fancy Group
Publisher: Alexander Gardner
Medium: Photographic print
One of the most fascinating photographs from the second volume of the sketchbook, A Fancy Group, captured by David Knox, shows an interesting aspect of Union Army camp life near Petersburg in August 1864. The image was taken just before a cock fight and the two birds can be seen in the centre of the image, held by two African American men with soldiers gathered around them. The photograph was taken during the siege at Petersburg, where pockets of violent fighting punctured prolonged periods of inaction.
In his description of this image, Gardner notes that although 'the monotony of camp life was relieved by every variety of amusement that was known, or could be devised', cock flighting was 'quite unusual, and seldom permitted'. His description goes on to discuss the types of games soldiers enjoyed, along with the general treatment of animals in the Union Army, mentioning in passing that 'one regiment was accompanied by a tame eagle in all its campaigns'. This is a reference to Old Abe, a bald eagle who became the mascot for the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
Gardner makes no mention of the African Americans in the photograph. It is likely these two men are Union soldiers as the Battle of Petersburg saw the largest concentration of black troops during the Civil War, along with some of their heaviest losses.