Civil War Photography Book Fair at the National Archives

archives-programYesterday morning in Washington, D.C., I was walking down Constitution Avenue near the corner of 7th Street when the small blue sign labeled “Today’s Program” caught my attention. It pointed the way to “Free Lectures with Book Signing,” and listed the day’s schedule. As the first of four speakers of the daylong event promoted elsewhere as the “Civil War Photography Book Fair” and the “Civil War Book Fair,” I was relieved to know that I had found the proper entrance with a half hour to spare before my presentation.

I’m a regular at the National Archives, but not at this entrance. I normally use the research door, which is on another side of the building.

I made my way inside the Archives, marched downstairs to the William G. McGowan Theater, and was escorted to the Green Room. There I had the distinct pleasure to meet Hari Jones, the Assistant Director and Curator of the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation and Museum in Washington, D.C.

archives-promo-cardHari (pronounced Harry) was tasked with introducing all of the speakers.

According to his biography, Hari is one of America’s foremost authorities on the role of African Americans during the war. I came away from our ten-minute conversation deeply impressed with his knowledge about and passion for men of color who participated in the war.

In the Green Room I also met Susan Clifton, the producer of public programs. She provided all the necessary pre-game details, which included an introduction to the theater podium. Minutes before the program began, archivist Claire Prechtel-Kluskens arrived on the scene. She would welcome the audience and introduce Hari.
coddington-archives01The event began promptly at 11 a.m. and was broadcast live on UStream. Within a few minutes, I walked up to the podium and launched into my discussion of African American Faces of the Civil War. Following my remarks, which are now archived on UStream, I exited the theater to sign books. Among those who purchased copies was a young man who worked for Ancestry and Fold3. He helped digitize U.S. Colored Troops records, and is currently working on records for veterans of the War of 1812.

On my way out, I bumped into Robert Wilson, the next speaker in the lineup. He is the author of Mathew Brady: Portraits of a Nation, which was released last August. Wilson and I had much in common due to our mutual interest on photography of the era, and our journalism connections at USA TODAY and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

All in all, it was a wonderful visit. I’m thankful to the staff of the Archives for their work to organize the program, and to Robin Noonan of Hopkins Press, publicist extraordinaire.

 

Jack Hines Faces Capture at Chickamauga

hinesThe story of how escaped slave John “Jack” Hines came to join the all-white Fifteenth Pennsylvania Infantry, and his later escape from Confederate attackers at Chickamauga. An excerpt:

He and Company K, along with two other companies from the Fifteenth, were assigned as an escort to the headquarters of Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, who commanded the Army of the Cumberland. A West Pointer who had performed admirably at the Battle of Stones River nine months earlier, he was familiarly known as “Old Rosy.” His flowery nickname belied his punctilious and downright testy nature.

During the two-day Battle of Chickamauga, Rosecrans’s headquarters was a beehive of activity. According to the historian of the Fifteenth, Hine’s comrades were “actively engaged during the whole of this memorable fight, remaining almost constantly saddled. Dispatches of the most vital importance were entrusted to the men by the Commanding General, his staff not being able to take all the messages; all of which were promptly delivered, under circumstances of appalling danger.”

During the second day of the battle, after Confederates under the command of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet broke through the Union lines and threatened headquarters, Hines and the rest of headquarters found themselves unexpectedly in the thick of the action.

Hine’s profile appeared in this month’s print issue of the Civil War News. It is now available on my blog.

Afternoon Book Signing at the Smithsonian

“I’m Margaret!” are the first words I remember spoken by Margaret Fisher after she appeared at the table where I was signing my books yesterday afternoon. Margaret is a longtime and supportive fan of this page, and regularly comments on posts here. I was absolutely delighted to meet her in person, and have the opportunity to learn more about her Civil War connections.

Margaret is one of many individuals who stopped by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History yesterday afternoon. Anne and I were set up at a table on the main floor of the museum next to the mall exit—so we were the last stop for many visitors as they lingered at the gift shop or prepared to leave after a day of exploring the exhibits.

1-ron-coddington-signs-john-smithsonianAmong those I met was John (he’s pictured here), who had a particular interest in the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry. We had a great chat. A big thanks to everyone who stopped by, and especially those who purchased a copy of one of the books.

Special thanks to manager Brendan McGurk, who made Anne and I feel right at home, and the always energetic and enthusiastic Robin Noonan of Hopkins Press, who made the event happen!

“African American Faces” Talk at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum

wisconsin-meI felt right at home in the Wisconsin Veterans Museum from the moment I entered the building yesterday afternoon. Located across from the stately Capitol building in Madison, the museum delivers on its tagline, “Connecting the past to the present, one story at a time.” Established by Civil War veterans in 1901, the museum is ably led today by Director Michael Telzrow (pictured, right) and Curator of Research & Public Programs Kevin Hampton (left).

Mike and Kevin generously shared their time and expertise as they took me on a behind the scenes tour of the museum, the highlight of which was a viewing of Wisconsin Civil War soldier images. In recent years they’ve built an impressive collection of cartes de visite, tintypes and ambrotypes. The team at the museum are on the front lines of preserving these wonderful images, and they deserve tip of the forage cap for their ongoing efforts.

Mike himself collected photos for a number of years, and we had fun referencing dealers we know and trading stories about unusual finds we’ve made along the way.

Another highlight was a viewing of original flags from Wisconsin regiments. These celebrated relics, torn and damaged from being carried into action on battlefields and faded from the elements, still remain powerful icons of the sacrifice of citizen soldiers from Madison and elsewhere in Wisconsin who stood up to fight for freedom and Union. The emotion attached to these banners continues to resonate, and I was instantly moved by their power.

We then toured the museum’s Civil War exhibit, which includes a Confederate cannon captured at Shiloh and almost immediately shipped to Wisconsin as a war trophy, and other objects with stories that are equally fascinating.

Mike, Kevin and I then had dinner, followed by my presentation about African American Faces of the Civil War at the museum. I was impressed with the quantity and quality of questions from the audience.

wisconsin-booksAfterwards, I signed books in the lobby gift shop. Here I met Kate Wheat of the 1st Brigade Band. Kate has purchased “Huzzah” refrigerator magnets from my wife, Anne. Kate kindly gave us her CD, “Frock Coats & Hoopskirts: Music for a Military Ball.” It’s currently playing in the background as I write this post.

I also met a young man named Matthew, who purchased a copy of the book. He is fascinated with the Civil War, especially the Battle of Gettysburg and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. He reminded me of myself as a boy, and I was particularly pleased that a copy of African American Faces is in his possession. I hope it deepens his appreciation and understanding of this pivotal moment in our nation’s history.

I’m deeply appreciative for the opportunity, and thankful to Mike, Kevin, Jen, and the rest of the staff for making my Wisconsin visit memorable! I left the museum deeply impressed, and highly recommend a visit. I look forward to working with Mike and Kevin as they continue to seek out Wisconsin Civil War images.

Eyes out for the five-button coat!

Appearance at the Slouching Salon

slouching-salonLast night I gave a talk about African American Faces of the Civil War before a small discussion club at a private home in Arlington, Va. The group, known as the “Slouching Salon,” has been in existence for years. They normally convene to discuss a specific topic, but occasionally entertain speakers. I found them to be tight-knit group who were eager to learn and had plenty of good questions. An excellent event, and many thanks to host Bob Roll for inviting me to participate. Speaking in a small private space instead of an auditorium was a more intimate experience, and reminded me of the popular House Concert movement currently in fashion. I’d like to do more events like this!

Here I am kicked back in the living room of Bob Roll’s residence, at the very beginning of the presentation.

Book Talk at the Historical Society of Kent County

photo 1Located in the heart of Chestertown, Md., the Historical Society of Kent County has one of the best locations of any I’ve visited. It was an excellent venue to present a talk about African American Faces of the Civil War. Yesterday I spoke to members of the society and guests as the streets outside were crowded with locals participating in First Friday events.

I enjoyed my visit, thanks in large part to Steve Frohock, who coordinated the event. Steve was responsible for having all three of my books available for purchase (thanks to all who did!) and a wonderful display in the front window of the Bordley History Center (pictured top and bottom).

photo 3Steve (pictured, right) told me that the society had worked with The Johns Hopkins University Press on a number of book-related events.

About 400 African American men from Kent County served in the Union army, and the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Hall they built in 1908 still stands. But the area is best known to historians and others, according to Steve, for the War of 1812. On August 30, 1814, the Kent County militia battled the British at Caulk’s Field. The site is in pristine condition today, and plans are underway for the bicentennial celebration next year.

photo 2Thanks to everyone who came out yesterday afternoon! On a side note for those of you familiar with the Bay Bridge and Friday beach traffic, it was minimal!

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.

“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.