Analysis of Confederate Prisoner Uniform Shades by "L" Value in the Whitehouse Landing & Punch Bowl Photographs
by R. K. Denton Jr.

    "What color uniform should our unit use?", is a common enough question among Confederate reenactors. And it is being asked more frequently, now that an increasing number of manufacturers are providing living historians with high quality wool/cotton jean and all wool yard goods in a variety of colors and shades.
    There is ample evidence to suggest that Confederate military clothing (or "variforms" as Freemantle called them) represented little effort to maintain a consistent or uniform appearance within a command.  However so few images remain of Confederate soldiers in the field, that most statements made regarding this issue have been conjectural at best.
    However, two remarkable images remain which do show large groups of Confederate soldiers of major commands (i.e. Army of Northern Virginia) fresh from campaign.  These are the "Prisoners at Belle Plain-The Punch Bowl" (Fig 1.) and "Prisoners at White House Landing" (Fig 2.), from "Millers Photographic History of the Civil War". It would be interesting to see whether image analysis of these phtographs could shed any light on this question.

        (now if you're a "non-technical" person, y'may wannna skip this part!)
    One of the techniques used in evaluating images is the determination of relative "lightness" or "L" value. By creating an internal "L" value standard for a particular photograph or image, quantitative data can be generated which will aid in component analysis of objects within the image.
    We applied this technique to measuring relative shades of Confederate States Army uniforms in the Punch Bowl (Fig.1) and White House Landing (Fig. 2) photographs.

Fig 1. "The Puchbowl"

Fig. 2 "White House Landing"

    Each photograph was digitized, and the selected "standard" sample for shade depth was chosen (see Figs.) An "L" scale from 0-60 was established, and the "light" sample set to 10; the medium sample set to 30; and the "dark" sample to 50. Thus the "standard ranges" were:
Light= 0-19
Medium= 20-39
Dark= 40-60

    Thus, for each individual soldier, where both trousers and jacket could be clearly discerned, "L" values were determined by photodensitometry and compared to the standard ranges. We were able to make out 25 soldiers (n=25) in the "Punch Bowl", and 20 (n=20) in the "White House Landing" photograph.
    Our analysis yielded the following data:

PB=Punch Bowl n=25; WHL=White House Landing n=20
    OK, so what does all this data tell us?
    Well for starters, what do we know about the prisoners in the photographs?  In the PB picture, most likely these men are from Johnson's Division (Stonewall Jackson's original command), which was captured in its entirety at the Mule Shoe salient on May 12, 1864. These men made up the great bulk of Confederate prisoners of the Battle of Spotsylvania.  In contrast, the WHL picture (probably) shows soldiers from Kershaw's Division, captured at Miller's Farm (Battle of Cold Harbor).  Whatever the case may be, there is almost no doubt that the two photographs represent soldiers of two different Confederate divisions.
    At first glance, a visual examination of the overall images doesn't seem to tell us much, other than there seems to be a bewildering variety of uniform types in many shades of gray.  Yet the data actually reveals there are certain "internal" consistencies within each group. Here's a digestion of those trends:
    the PB group has many more men in "light" trousers than the WHL group;
    there is a consistent trend within the PB group for trousers to be lighter than jackets, the opposite trend shows up in the WHL group (i.e. trousers darker than jackets);
    there are roughly an equal number of "matching" jacket/trouser shades in each group (approx. 40%), perhaps representing "issued" uniforms;
    the great majority of "matching" uniforms are "medium" in shade. what does this mean to me as a living historian?

1. First and foremost, what this little analysis tells us is that there are often "trends" in data that cannot be ordinarily made out by "casual" observation (which unfortunately is the way most reenactors do "research").

2. Secondly, although at the unit (company) level, there should be a moderate level of variability expressed in uniform color choices, battalion level organizations might be wise to approve certain "quotas" for uniform colors within their member companies, which would apply "across the board" so to speak.  This would produce a reasonable level of uniformity throughout the battalion (as seen in these photographs) yet allow the battalion and its companies to retain sufficient individuality.

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