“Firsts” at Book Talk in Charlottesville

02Two “firsts” distinguished last night’s discussion at the Senior Center in Charlottesville, Va.

For the first time in the all the presentations I’ve made, this was focused on a book yet to be completed—my navy volume. Although the manuscript will not be completed until the end of the year, I am comfortably past the halfway point. The talk provided me an early opportunity to build a Powerpoint and begin to talk publicly about the sailors at the heart of the volume.

For the first time ever, I was late. I allowed an extra hour for travel and it was not enough. Numerous slow-downs for police activity caused me to be six minutes late. Host Rick Britton, always the gentleman, kept the crowd engaged until my arrival.

A huge thanks to Rick and all those who attended for their patience, warm welcome, and good questions. Also thanks to Bill Krause, a Civil War living history impressionist. His ancestor, William B. Newman, was acting master on the warship “Southfield” in 1864. Captured at Plymouth, N.C., he spent the majority of the war as a prisoner.

The Civil War Through Different Lenses

african-american-faces-garvin-200DPIA hearty “huzzah” to all the fine folks who organized and those who attended last night’s lecture about African American Faces of the Civil War at the Senior Center in Charlottesville, Va. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit—the hour whizzed by! Delighted to meet Cheryl Ann Regan Kramer, who frequents my Facebook author page, and Al Falcone, a veteran of World War II and maker of beautiful pens. The lecture was organized by the indefatigable Rick Britton, who I met a couple years ago at the Virginia Festival of the Book. Rick and Victoria Britton treated me to dinner afterwards, and had a wonderful time talking about the Civil War, photography, art, and may other subjects. A great day!

Book Talk at Reynolds Community College

ghazala-ronI’m overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of the fine team at Reynolds who made last night’s book talk a reality. Heartfelt thanks to Lisa, Ashley, and especially my good friend Ghazala Hashmi (pictured here). The friendship Ghazala and I share extends all the way back to high school, and I’m so happy to reconnect with her after so many years. She and I caught up over dinner at a local Thai restaurant before the talk.

The event took place in the Massey Library auditorium on campus and was well attended. I was delighted to see a number of young faces in the audience, and applaud the teacher who gave one group of high school students extra credit for attending the presentation. I was also impressed with the raffle—four copies of “African American Faces of the Civil War” were given away, and another four copies of the book written by the author who will appear at the next event. In all the talks I’ve participated in, the book raffle is a first.

All of this happened on my birthday, and at the end of the presentation, event coordinator Lisa Bishop stepped up to the podium and asked everyone to wish me a happy birthday on the count of three. That was icing on the cake!

After the event, we all walked out into the lobby of the library for refreshments and a book signing. I met and signed books for a number of attendees, including Wendell, a teacher who planned to use the book in his class.

Great day!

Applause for New Review of African American Faces of the Civil War

african-american-faces-of-the-civil-war-200DPIThe Indiana Magazine of History published a review of African American Faces of the Civil War by Deborah Willis in its current issue (December 2013, pages 403-404). It is one of the most thoughtful and cogent reviews of the book. I am particularly pleased to read Willis’s observation, “Coddington makes a compelling argument for the reader to rethink the place of photography in telling history.”

THE FULL REVIEW:

African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album
By Ronald S. Coddington
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012. Pp. ix, 338. Illustrations, notes, references, index. $29.95.)

In images and text, Ronald Coddington sets out to uncover a compelling history of the black man’s role in his own emancipation. African American Faces of the Civil War comes amidst an onslaught of books and exhibitions commemorating the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and focusing on the officers, laborers, and soldiers—known and unknown, black and white—who served in the Civil War. Until recently, scholars have written little about the contributions of African American men to the war effort. This book stands as one of the first photographic albums connecting portraits of black soldiers to ideas of democracy and patriotism that were current at the time. The book engages the reader with ideas about citizenship and self-representation as they were fashioned through the camera lens with uniformed soldiers, standing alone or in pairs, holding flags, banners, or arms, and posed in front of illustrated battlegrounds.

Next to the portraits Coddington provides short biographies of the men who fought and labored in the war. The narrative explores their sense of strength, commitment, and courage, before, during, and after the war. Hardworking, hypermasculine, and well-intentioned fighters, some survived the war to lead exceptional lives; many—even with the challenges of late nineteenth- and early twentieth- century segregation—managed to raise families and build communities.

As Coddington writes, even the opportunity to fight was initially denied them. Both the Union and the Confederate armies implicitly and explicitly excluded African American men from their first call-up in 1861. Many of the men who eventually served did so by protesting to the government. As the war became more strenuous and manpower more scarce, however, African Americans were eagerly recruited to fight. Some joined local regiments as they were formed; others traveled great distances to enlist with a particular regiment. The 54th Massachusetts, for instance, drew its ranks from Canada, Ohio, Indiana, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

Coddington’s depiction of the “brave, aggressive, fearless, uncompromising” (p. 152) Milton Holland of the Virginia-based 5th U.S. Colored Infantry, makes clear the commitment that black soldiers had to achieving full citizenship. In his portrayal of Holland and others like him, Coddington contributes to the recent critical writings on the self-emancipation of Civil War soldiers. Yet he does not shy away from controversial relationships between slave masters and enslaved soldiers. An entry entitled “He Aided His Wounded Master” chronicles the lives of Silas Chandler and his owner, Sgt. Andrew Martin Chandler, Company F, 44th Mississippi Infantry. A tintype portrait shows Silas seated on a lower chair as Andrew sits a head taller on a high chair. While the posing clearly indicates Silas’s status as inferior, both appear well armed for battle. This portrait and Coddington’s informative yet complex text suggest a sympathetic read of this master-servant relationship.

In developing parallels between the control of one’s image in narratives and the use of the photograph as biography, Coddington makes a compelling argument for the reader to rethink the place of photography in telling history. His use of photographs as visual text allows the reader to reimagine history through the photographer’s lens. This book maps new methodologies for researching and writing about photographs and plumbs the hidden history of the Civil war narrative.

Deborah Willis is University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at Tisch School of the Arts, and a faculty member in Africana Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, New York University.

The State of the Navy Is Strong!

Last summer, I announced on Facebook that my next book in the Faces series will focus on the fourth great narrative of the Civil War—the stories of sailors who served in the Union and Confederate navies.

I’m pleased to report that the state of the navy is strong! Over the last six months, I’ve located 27 original, wartime photographs of navy men, and have received permission to include them in the forthcoming book. Research is underway for the majority of the men, and two profiles are finished.

dana-williamOne of the images acquired for the book is included here. Acting Ensign William S. Dana (standing) is pictured with Richard S. Dana. The two are likely brothers or cousins. The back of the photograph is dated October 1863, which coincides with Ensign Dana’s graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy. Less than a year later, Dana numbered among a small group of officers who received a formal thanks from Admiral David Farragut for the destruction of the blockade runner Ivanhoe, which was chased aground by federal warships near Fort Morgan at the mouth of Mobile Bay. On July 6, 1864, Dana commanded one of several small boats that attacked the Ivanhoe in a daring nighttime raid. Dana and his comrades managed to set the stranded boat afire while hundreds of Union sailors and soldiers observed the action. “The entire conduct of the expedition was marked by a promptness and energy which shows what may be expected of such officers and men on similar occasions,” announced Farragut with evident pride.

Dana went on to a distinguished career in the navy.

This is one of the 77 soldier stories and images that will ultimately appear in the book.

I am delighted with the progress to date, and will continue to post updates at six-month intervals. The manuscript is scheduled to be delivered to my publisher, The Johns Hopkins University Press, in December 2015.

A Literary Minded Veteran and His Dog?

A gent sits with his legs crossed and holds a book, perhaps an indication that he has an interest in literature, or may be an educator or publisher. The approximate date of this image (circa 1862-1864), and his relative youth (military age) increase the chances that he (and maybe his dog) served in the Civil War. This photograph was taken in the studio of G.J. Wood of Syracuse, N.Y., and is new to my collection.

His image is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
A Literary-Minded Gent and His Dog

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” 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!

New Review of African American Faces in “The Journal of America’s Past”

african-american-faces-of-the-civil-war-200DPIThanks to to Roger D. Cunningham for his insights and observations on pages 97-98 of the spring/summer 2013 issue of The Journal of America’s Past (formerly Periodical). The full review:

This attractive volume is the third in a series of books on Civil War portraits, by Ronald S. Coddington, assistant managing editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. His first book, Faces of the Civil War, depicted Union soldiers, and the second, Faces of the Confederacy, showed Confederate soldiers.

Each of the author’s previous volumes included 77 images, accompanied by brief biographical sketches pieced together from various sources, including newspapers, regimental histories, and the military service records and disability pension records that are available at the National Archives. This book follows the same format, and its images include cartes de visite, ambrotypes, and tintypes, which come from public archives as well as several private collections. The images include infantrymen, cavalrymen, artillerymen, sailors, and a few noncombatants. The last category includes Robert Holloway, who was Maj. Gen. Ambrose P. Burnside’s servant, and a slave, Silas Chandler, who went to war with his Confederate master, Sgt. Andrew M. Chandler, of the 44th Mississippi Infantry. The tintype of the Chandlers also appeared on an episode of PBS’s Antiques Roadshow.

The rest of the images show the men, both freeborn and enslaved, who enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), as well as a few sailors from the Union navy. Among the USCT images, there are a handful of officers, including Maj. Martin R. Delany, who served in both the 104th and the 52d U.S. Colored Infantry regiments. Capt. Louis A. Snaer, of the 73d U.S. Colored Infantry, was awarded the brevet rank of major for his gallant conduct during the assault on Fort Blakely, Alabama, in April 1865. Another soldier who wanted to be an officer but was denied that goal was Sgt. Maj. Christian A. Fleetwood, of the 4th U.S. Colored Infantry. Fleetwood was awarded the Medal of Honor for the heroism he displayed during the Battle of New Market Heights, which was fought near Richmond, Virginia, in September 1864. After the war, however, Fleetwood was able to secure a commission as a major, commanding one of the black battalions in the District of Columbia National Guard.

A few of the men who are depicted left the USCT after the war and enlisted in one of the six black regiments—four infantry and two cavalry—that were added to the Regular Army in 1866. These black regulars have come to be known as the “Buffalo Soldiers.” After serving in the 108th U.S. Colored Infantry, Solomon Starks enlisted in the 9th U.S. Cavalry in 1866 and rode with that regiment to west Texas, where he died from dysentery at Fort Davis, a year later. Kendrick Allen also served with the 108th and after mustering out of the Union army and working as a stonemason for five years, he spent ten years in the 24th U.S. Infantry, before enlisting in the 9th Cavalry in 1881. Allen finally retired from the Army as a sergeant in 1897.

All those who are fascinated by Civil war photography or black history in general will find this volume to be a most enjoyable read. The book helps us to remember that during the Civil War a significant number of black men were willing to fight for their freedom or to help secure freedom for their fellow African Americans.