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HISTORY: Grant’s council reconvenes for one more shot

For photographer Carl Staub, helping to re-create a photo from 150 years ago was a “transcendent” experience.

The photograph being re-created Friday was Grant’s Council of War, shot May 21, 1864, in front of Massaponax Baptist Church in Spotsylvania County.

The photo, one of the most memorable of the Civil War, showed Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Gen. George Meade and several Union officers and soldiers sitting on pews that had been brought out onto the church grounds. It was shot by photographer Timothy O’Sullivan from the top window of the church.

On Friday, Staub brought that scene back to life, with help from volunteers such as church trustee Greg Raines and re-enactor David Childs. The photo shoot came on the eve of re-enactments and other events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the battles of Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse, which brought Grant and his council together for the original shot.

Pews were brought outside and arranged just so in the corner where the original photo was shot. The same window the original photo was taken from was opened so Staub could shoot from the same angle.

Re-enactors played the Union soldiers in the photo. Childs was one of them.

“It’s hard to reproduce. It’s hard to get enough people,” Childs said.

He stressed the rarity of the photo and the significance of it.

“There’s no other photo like it in Civil War history,” he said. “They came together at the same place and time. It’s pretty unique.”

One of the re-enactors who helped to recreate the photo was John Grant Griffiths of Spotsylvania, the great-great-grandson of Grant.

Raines was excited to be involved, as well.

“It means a lot to all the families,” he said, referring to descendents of the men who fought in the war.

A copy of the original photos hangs on an inside wall of the church, to remind all of the significance of the location.

In re-creating the photo, Staub took care to match the smallest details.

For example, he made sure one of the re-enactors was reading a newspaper and another was smoking a pipe. Horses were even brought in for the background.

What did Staub think of the scene?

“It looked amazing,” he said.

Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413


For a schedule of events and more information on this weekend’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the battles of Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse, visit

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