A Talk, a Show and Tell, and More at the CVCWCA

IMG_8188Yesterday I had the distinct honor to talk about cartes de visite to the Central Virginia Civil War Collectors Association in Richmond, Va.

My visit was timed to the CVCWCA’s monthly meeting, and I was unprepared for the dynamism of this group. The meeting included a warm introduction by the organization’s fearless leader, Brig. Gen. John W. “Jack” Mountcastle (U.S. Army, retired), followed by my remarks, a Q&A and a show and tell to wrap up the evening. It was this latter activity that I found especially engaging. Members brought in recently dug relics and Civil War photos (knowing that I’d be in attendance). It felt like  a special edition of Antiques Roadshow as I examined and commented on selected images.

Brig. Gen. Mountcastle is a name that will be familiar to many of you. He served as Chief Military Historian of the U.S. Army Center of Military History from 1994 to 1998. Check out his appearance on C-Span.

The invitation would not have happened with member Dave Batalo. I met Dave last year and was impressed with his eye for quality images. A few months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting up with him and scanning a number of his Virginia images. You’ll see some of them in the Summer 2017 issue of Military Images magazine.

I came away from the evening feeling energized and enthusiastic thanks to Dave, Jack and the rest of the club members. I came away without the big box of books that I lugged in, and thank the club members for their generosity.

I came home with the paperweight pictured here. I recently upgraded my office to include an adult-size table (I worked on a smallish desk for years) and the paperweight is a perfect accessory.

“Water War” at the Chesapeake CWRT

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 5.24.16 PMI always take special care to plan my presentations, and “Water Wars: A history of the Civil War navies through the eyes of 25 sailors” was no exception. In a sense, it was three presentations in one—a brief history of photography, numbers of naval personnel and ships, and 25 mini-profiles. All of the information came from my most recent book, Faces of the Civil War Navies: An Album of Union and Confederate Sailors.

I delivered the presentation last night to the Chesapeake Civil War Roundtable of Maryland. Many thanks to the Theresa Chevery, who invited me, President Janet McCabe, Larry Clemens, Lester Brooks, and all who attended.

The talk began with an excerpt of a letter from by Rear Adm. David Dixon Porter to the mother of Lt. Benjamin Horton Porter (distant relation) after the young man’s death at the Jan. 15, 1865, Battle of Fort Fisher. Here’s the excerpt:

Your gallant son was my beau-ideal of an officer. His heart was filled with gallantry and love of country. It must be a dreadful blow to lose such a son. It was a dreadful blow to me to lose such an officer. My associations with my officers are not those of a commander. We are like comrades, and form fond attachments to each other. When they fall I feel as if I had lost one of my own family. Your son was captain of my flag-ship, and a favorite with me and all who knew him.

He was brave to a fault. I shall never forget the day he left the ship, with my flag in his hand, saying, ‘Admiral, this shall be the first flag on the fort.’ My own son, a lad of seventeen, went by his side, and was with him when he fell, with my flag in his hand, trying to reach the enemy’s ramparts, from whence the murderous wretches were firing thousands of muskets into our brave fellows.

That was a wretched night for me. Your son was reported killed, and mine, last seen at his side, was missing till late in the night. I could imagine his father’s anguish, and I could imagine yours. I have no consolation to give you, unless to console you with the certainty of meeting in a better world than this. I have gone through a great deal in this war. For four years I have been but one month with my family. I have seen my official family cut down one after another, and my heart is so sad that I feel as if I could never smile again.

Among all the young men who have been on my staff no one had my entire confidence more than your lost son—lost only for a time. You will find him again where all is peace and joy. I would like to drink of the waters of Lethe and forget the last four years.

Book Review: “The Human Story of the War at Sea”

faces-navy-200dpiPleased to pass along a new review from LSU’s “Civil War Book Review” of my navy volume.

Here’s my favorite part: “Faces of the Civil War Navies is a notable addition to anyone’s Civil War library – whether they are interested in the War’s naval history or social aspects. Coddington does a worthy job providing scholarly biographies that are both interesting to read and informative. The scholarly nature of this work can be appreciated through the thoroughly cited entries, and extensive bibliography. In the end Faces of the Civil War Navies does accomplish Coddington’s goal of adding the human story of the war at sea.”

Read the entire review.

At the Rockland CWRT

IMG_8080My talk last evening at the Rockland Civil War Round Table in Pearl River, N.Y., unfolded differently than any others in recent memory. Early on during my presentation, “Cardomania! The Rise and Fall of the Carte de Visite in Civil War America,” one of the members asked a question. Typically, questions come at the end of the lecture, but this is not a hard and fast rule with me. So I rolled with it and answered the question. More questions came as I continued the talk, and what normally is a 45-minute presentation lasted about double the time. I enjoyed the format change!

My visit would not have been possible without all of the fine folks in this group, especially Paul R. Martin III, who heads up the organization. A high school art and photography teacher, and an accomplished artist in his own right, Paul was a great master of ceremonies and host.

A big thanks to all who participated. And thanks for the treasure trove of gifts, picture here.

At the North Shore CWRT

IMG_8058My lecture about Civil War portrait photography includes an epilogue that traces these photos from the time they were in the hands of the veterans who originally sat for them to today. A key point during this timeline, from the late 1950s through the 1970s, includes the pioneer collectors who emerged as caretakers of these precious images.

Last night during my appearance at the North Shore Civil War Roundtable in Huntington, Long Island, N.Y., I was delighted to have in attendance two of those early collectors—Scott Valentine and Dom Serrano. Both have contributed to Military Images magazine. It was a special moment for me to be able to call them out during the talk! Later, I discovered another early collector in the crowd, Bill Finlayson, a descendant of Medal of Honor recipient John James Toffey of the 33rd New Jersey Infantry. (I profiled Toffey in the New York Times Disunion series.)

I had the pleasure to meet many others, including Ed Callahan and Jeff Richmond. A big thanks to them and all who attended—and especially Dom for making this event happen.

At Virginia Tech, Cardomania!


I had the pleasure of presenting a lecture about Civil War portrait photography yesterday afternoon at the Center for Civil War Studies on the campus of Virginia Tech. The talk, Cardomania! How the carte de visite became the Facebook of the 1860s, explains that the carte de visite format is a blip on the timeline of photographic history, wedged between the beauty of the daguerreotype and the technical improvements later in the 19th century. But during its heyday in the 1860s, the its affordability, reproducibility and shareability made it a social media powerhouse.

The event could not have happened without professors Paul Quigley, director of the Center, and Kurt Luther. Kurt, by the way, is the author of Photo Sleuth, a column in Military Images magazine. My sincere thanks to them for the efforts to help all of us better understand and appreciate the Civil War.

Civil War Talk Radio Appearance

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-9-58-07-pmDec. 7 is an appropriate day to discuss the navy, and so it was this evening at 7 pm ET when I appeared on Civil War Talk Radio with host Gerald Prokopowicz. We spent an hour talking about the history of photography, its impact on the American soldier, and the portraits and personal narratives of the 77 sailors featured in my new book, Faces of the Civil War Navies.
The episode began with sadness as Mr. Prokopowicz dedicated the show to Heidi, his standard poodle who recently passed. I did not have the opportunity to tell him about the pugs who have laid at my feet every morning for the last 16 years as I’ve written my books—Charlie, Brutus, Lucy, Missy and Bella. Only Bella is here with us now, though I will always hold the others close to my heart. For those of you who have made it to the acknowledgements section at the back of my books, the pugs are always mentioned.

Book Review: A Chronicle of Diverse Nautical Service

faces-navy-200dpiToday’s Charlotte Observer includes a review by John David Smith, a professor of American History at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, of my new book, Faces of the Civil War Navies.

The headline of the review reflects a sentiment shared by many who are enthusiasts of the water war from 1861 to 1865 and navy veterans of all stripes: Sailors who served in Civil War navies finally get their stories told.

Professor Smith notes, Faces of the Civil War Navies uses a stunning collection of cartes de visite and tintype images of Union and Confederate sailors to chronicle their diverse nautical service.

Delighted to read this and other positive comments from Professor Smith.

Reviewers of all my Faces books include a sampling of stories. It interests me to know which individuals they’ve decided to highlight. Professor Smith selected Landsman Aaron Joseph, a Boston man who went to war to fight for the freedom of his enslaved race, Lt. William Whittle Jr., a Virginian who served on the last Confederate vessel to surrender, and Lt. Cmdr. Richard Rush, a Pennsylvanian who went on to edit the monumental Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies.

Read the full review.

Author Q&A With John Banks

jb-blogI’ve been a longtime follower of John Banks’ Civil War Blog. It is chock full of images and stories with an emphasis on Antietam, Connecticut, common soldiers and photography.

John interviewed me about my new book, Faces of the Civil War Navies: An Album of Union and Confederate Sailors. I was delighted to participate and thank John for helping to spread the word about these fascinating citizen sailors.

Turns out John’s favorite story involves a Union lieutenant who almost drowned President Abraham Lincoln and Adm. David Dixon Porter on the James River in April 1865. You can read John’s summary and my answers to his questions.

The Human Aspect of the Civil War Navies

10-13-16-coddington-pic-1My latest post on The Johns Hopkins University Press blog is pegged to the anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Navy. An excerpt:

The story of the war on the waters never quite stirred the American soul. The New York Herald noted in an 1895 review of the first in the 30-volume Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, “That branch of the service has never had its full share of credit for its work in the suppression of the rebellion, owing, perhaps, to the more popular interest in the army, which came so much more closely home to the people.”

The post is illustrated with this portrait of Lt. Benjamin Horton Porter, a promising Union officer. A U.S. Naval Academy graduate viewed as a rising star, he did not live to see the conclusion of the conflict into which he poured his heart and soul.