Guest blogger Kurt Holman is a park manager at the site of Kentucky's Perryville Battlefield State Historical Site. He describes the ways he and the park staff have used Henry Mosler's drawings to understand better the landscape its history.
"The Henry Mosler Drawing of the Battle of Perryville"
We have studied this depiction of the Battle of Perryville quite heavily to determine the subjects depicted therein. Perhaps the most distinctive feature in the drawing is the crib/barn with the double shed [at center]. This structure, no longer extant, was photographed in 1885 from the SE, showing the opposite side as Mosler depicted. At the time, this structure was in such a decrepit condition that it probably collapsed or was torn down soon after the photograph was taken.
We have named this structure the “Widow Gibson Crib/Barn" after the woman who lived on the farm where the Battle of Perryville was waged.
The “Widow Gibson” was born Mary Jane Bottom in 1822 to Turner Bottom and Nancy Bridges. Turner Bottom had a brother “Jacob” and Nancy Bridges had a sister “Polly” (Mary) Bridges. Jacob Bottom married Polly Bridges. The two couples had a total of 11 children. One of Jacob and Polly’s sons was Henry P. Bottom. Soon after Mary Jane Bottom was born, both her parents (Turner and Nancy) died of some illness and the whole family moved in together with Jacob and Polly. This makes Henry Bottom and Mary Jane double first cousins. In October of 1848, Mary Jane Bottom married Milton Gibson. Milton died of illness early in 1862, leaving Mary Jane Gibson a Widow with three small boys, living as sharecroppers on Henry Bottom’s Farm. The Battle of Perryville took place mostly on the farm of Henry P. Bottom.
We have located the location of both the “Widow Gibson Cabin” and the “Widow Gibson Crib/Barn” through archaeology. The two structures were approximately 100 Yards apart. The soil tests on the cabin site show habitation between 1848 and 1863, with a one-year margin of error. These habitation dates coincide perfectly with the marriage of Mary Jane and Milton to the Battle in October of 1862.
Mosler also depicts an artillery battery in the right of the image. Given the context with the known location of the Widow Gibson Cabin and Crib Barn, this places his perspective as on a hill occupied by Captain Samuel Harris’ 19th Indiana Battery, looking almost due east. This means the Union Soldiers depicted in the foreground are from Colonel George P. Webster’s Brigade. The regiment in the left foreground is likely the 80th Indiana Infantry. The attacking Confederates are from Donelson’s and Stewart’s Brigades (of Cheatham’s Division) towards the left and probably S.A.M. Wood’s Brigade (Simon B. Buckner’s Division) on the right of the image.
The “artistic license” of the drawing is evidenced by the height of the horizon and the size of the Crib/Barn is much too large. If one looks closely at the tiny Confederate soldiers in front of the structure, in context, make the structure huge, much larger than real life. Also, Mosler would have only be able to see the tops of the roofs of the Cabin and Crib. Since only one structure is seen in his drawing, he seems to have only drawn the most distinctive structure, the Crib/Barn, and made it way too large. With that and the elevated horizon, it is assumed he was trying for some type of “Birds Eye View.” When the writer [Kurt Holman] was attempting to locate the site of Mosler’s perspective for the drawing, he was tempted to take the “Modern View” from a high ladder.