Massaponax Baptist Church
Massaponax Baptist Church, built in 1859, served a congregation founded in 1788. On 21 May 1864 Lt. Gen Ulysses S. Grant and his commanders conferred on pews in the churchyard as the Union army marched from the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield to North Anna River. Photographer Timothy O’Sullivan hauled his heavy stereo camera to the balcony of the church and recorded this conference in a unique series of candid images showing a war council in progress.
Two weeks of fighting at Spotsylvania had resulted in a bloody draw. On May 21, 1864, the Army of the Potomac left its trenches outside the village and began moving east and south, hoping to lure the Confederates into open where it could attach them to greater advantage.
At 10 a.m. Gens. U.S. Grant and George Meade broke camp near Spotsylvania. They reached Massaponax Church, on Telegraph Road, about noon. After a brief conference, the generals and the army moved on to Guinea Station.
Photographer Timothy O’Sullivan caught up with the Federal high command during their brief stopover at the church. He recorded a remarkable series of photographs of the generals and their staffs in conference.
Union soldiers a Massaponax Church, May, 1864. This view looks west from Telegraph Road. Many of the soldiers who appear in this photograph belong to the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteers, a regiment that was then serving as head-quarters guard for the Army of the Potomac.
O’Sullivan made this photograph through a window in the building’s gallery. In it, Grant is seated on a church pew at the foot of the trees, flanked on his left by Secretary of War Charles Dana and Chief of Staff John A. Rawlins. Meade occupies the pew at the left, in the seat farthest from the camera.