New on Disunion: A Slave’s Service in the Confederate Army

24disunion-img-blog427I originally wrote about Silas Chandler, the slave who served two masters in the Confederate army, in African American Faces of the Civil War. In a new version posted yesterday on the New York Times Disunion blog, I’ve revised the story with a few additional details, including this paragraph that provides context about slaves who served Mississippi Confederates:

“In 1888, Mississippi established a state pension program for Confederate veterans and their widows. African-Americans who had acted as slave servants to soldiers in gray were also allowed to participate. Over all, 1,739 men of color were on the pension rolls, including Silas.”

Read the full story.

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New to the Collection: Union Cavalryman Photographed in Chicago

New to my collection is this wonderful image of a young Union cavalryman wearing veteran’s stripes on his jacket sleeves, and holding a slouch hat that appears to have the brass number “1” attached to the front.

This portrait is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Union Cavalryman Photographed in Chicago

“African American Faces” in the Baltimore Sun

sunFred Rasmussen, who writes the popular column Back Story for the Baltimore Sun, featured African American Faces of War yesterday. Fred attended my recent book talk at the Johns Hopkins Club, and I thoroughly enjoyed having he opportunity to meet him. Fred was born in raised in Dunellen, N.J., only a mile or two from my boyhood home in Middlesex.

An excerpt from Back Story:

Some 200,000 African-Americans enlisted in the Union army or navy — some of them were free while others were runaway slaves. They served as soldiers, servants or laborers.

Not only did Coddington, who lives in Arlington, Va., draw on his own collection, he turned to other collectors, historical societies and libraries such as the Beinecke Library at Yale University, which had images of the 108th Infantry of the U.S. Colored Troops in its collection, for instance.

He selected only images of men who were identified by name, which allowed him to go to the National Archives and the Library of Congress, where he was able to go through pension records, revealing a great deal of biographical information on the individuals.

Read the full column.

Book Talk at The Johns Hopkins Club

hopkins-clubYesterday I spent a delightful afternoon at the Hopkins Club, which is located on the picturesque Homewood Campus in Baltimore. The Club has a lunch lecture series, and in this first event of the academic year I was honored to talk about African American Faces of the Civil War.

We enjoyed an excellent buffet lunch which featured Maryland seafood, and the Hopkins Sundae—ice cream topped with fudge and caramel, which mimics the black and gold university colors. (Wondering if my alma mater has a desert. Is their a UGA Sundae?)

The room was packed, including several friends from Hopkins Press: Acquisitions Editor Bob Brugger, Publicist Robin Noonan, and Development and Publicity Officer Jack Holmes. Also in attendance was Fred Rasmussen, a well-respected columnist at the Baltimore Sun. Turns out Fred and I grew up about a mile-and-half from each other in New Jersey—Fred in Dunellen and I in Middlesex. Fred’s passion for his work and interest in history was clear from the moment we met.

The event was not without its drama on the roads. A car accident on the Beltway doubled a normally hour long trip. Road construction further slowed my progress. With less than 15 minutes before lunch began, I gave up my attempts to bypass the construction, hastily found a parking space across from the campus, and set out on foot. I made it with a few minutes to spare!

The Legacy of the Shaw Memorial Is a Steady Drumbeat of Hope

shaw-memorialThe memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the men of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry is a masterpiece of American art. It is also a moving monument to the sacrifice of soldiers in war. It is however also a seminal moment in the history of race relations in the United States that illustrates a core narrative at the heart and soul of our larger Civil War story.

This is the summary of a guest post contributed to the Hopkins Press blog. It appeared in advance of tomorrow’s National Gallery of Art exhibit about the celebrated memorial, “Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial.”

Read the full post.

The Fifty-Fourth Tells It With Pride

mendez-coddington-cruzLast Tuesday night’s reception at the National Gallery of Art for the opening of the new exhibit about the Shaw Memorial and the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry was extraordinary.

At one point in the evening, as Anne and I were looking into the case in which my photograph of Maj. John W.M. Appleton was displayed next to his diary (on loan from the West Virginia University), a man came up and introduced himself. He was Carl Cruz, the great-great-grandnephew of Sgt. William H. Carney. Those of you who know the Fifty-fourth remember that Sgt. Carney carried the Stars and Stripes at Fort Wagner. He suffered several wounds that terrible night, and upon returning told a group of survivors, “Boys, the old flag never touched the ground.”

Carl is a great guy, and we had a wonderful chat next to the framed Medal of Honor that Carney received for his actions at Fort Wagner. Carl told me he used to play with the medal, take it to school, show it to his friends!

In this photo, Carl stands on the right. On the left is his cousin, Joseph Mendez.

There were a number of other attendees that we met. Chris Foard is a collector of Civil War nurse photos, letters and other personal items. Several images from his holdings were on display. Peter Drummey, the Stephen T. Riley Librarian at the Massachusetts Historical Society, chatted with Anne and I in front of the Shaw Memorial. Among the topics we chatted about was Benjamin Butler. We had many stories to share, and both agreed that although the political general is known for his sordid dealings in politics, he also had a heart of gold who worked tirelessly for his constituents.

We also met old friends and acquaintances, including curators Sarah Greenough and Lindsay Harris. Sarah provided introductory remarks at the press opening earlier that day (I attended), and her words reflected her deep understanding of the importance of the memorial both as a work of art and as a reminder to us of the courage and sacrifice of the men who served in the regiment.

The exhibit opens tomorrow. It will travel to Boston in early 2014. Don’t miss it!

Book Talk at the Polk County Historical Association

Polk County logoI presented a talk about African American Faces of the Civil War at the Polk County Historical Association in Columbus, N.C., on Tuesday. I had a great time thanks to PCHS president Anna Conner, who made all the arrangements, and Al Creasy, who made sure the projector was up and running. (It was!)

This was a homecoming for me. My mother Carol has lived in the area for 35 years. She and my brother Gary and sister-in-law Wendy came out, and I did not heckle me off the podium! Also in attendance was my great friend Allan Pruette, who came with a folder full of clips of my work from my days at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and elsewhere.

I met a number of local folks, including Craig, Garrett, and the venerable James Payne. Thanks to all for attending.

I truly enjoyed my visit, and having the opportunity to share the stories and photos of these men who participated in the Civil War. Book sales were strong, and I appreciate the support.

The talk was captured on video, and will be available on CD for members to borrow from the PCHS library. Kudos to the association for making this service available. Anna pointed out several of the videos that were oral histories of now-deceased citizens of the county.

Fun fact: Polk County is not named for the eleventh president, but William Polk, a Revolutionary War colonel who survived Valley Forge and participated in numerous engagements with Washington’s army.

New to My Flickr Photostream: Captured During the Bristoe Campaign

This carte de visite of Lester Douglass Phelps was taken in 1865 after he returned from 18 months as a prisoner of war. Phelps (1838-1910) began his war service in the summer of 1861 as a lieutenant in the Eighth Pennsylvania Cavalry. The regiment participated in a number of engagements with the Army of the Potomac, including the May 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville, where it received high marks for its performance by Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, who commanded the cavalry corps of the army: “The distinguished gallantry of the 8th Pa. regiment, in charging the head of the enemy’s column, advancing on the 11th corps, on the evening of the 2nd inst., has excited the highest admiration. * * * The gallant [Lt. Col. Duncan] McVikar, the generous chivalric [Maj. Peter] Keenan, with 15O killed and wounded from your small numbers, attest the terrible earnestness that animated the midnight conflict of the second of May.”

Phelps survived the fight, but was captured in action on Oct. 12, 1863, during the Bristoe Campaign near Sulphur Springs, Va. He spent the rest of the war in prisoner if war camps throughout the South. He gained his released in March 1865 and returned to his regiment in May 1865 at Appomattox Court House. He sent the last weeks of his military service as Provost Marshall of Appomattox County.

He became a probate judge in Connecticut after the war.

This portrait is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Captured During the Bristoe Campaign