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.

Reflections on the New York Times’s “Disunion” Blog

Disunion will come to an end in 2015, according to Clay Risen, who edits the popular New York Times blog. This is perhaps the biggest news item announced during the panel held Friday afternoon at the Southern Historical Society’s 2014 meeting in Atlanta, Ga.

IMG_4382Organized by Blain Roberts of the California State University at Fresno, the panel included her husband, Ethan J. Kytle, also of the California State University at Fresno, Clay Risen, Staff Editor, Op-Ed, New York TimesSusan Schulten of the University of Denver, Kate Masur of Northwestern University and me.

The two-hour discussion started with brief presentations by the panelists, followed by a Q and A from the live audience and twitter (#sha2014). Subjects ranged from basic questions about the blog and thoughts about how scholars can benefit by this format to a strong plea by historian Masur for Disunion to continue on and examine the Reconstruction era.

Megan Kate Nelson, writer, historian, culture critic, and author of the blog Historista, tweeted the panel. She accurately summarized my role in Disunion:

Not tweeted but mentioned in my opening remarks is the importance and relevance of the portrait photographs of the Civil War period to the country’s visual record.

10626295_966761333352034_7770915906265575458_oI thoroughly enjoyed my visit and was honored to participate. My stay in Atlanta was brief but active. One of my favorite moments was catching up with Bob Brugger of The Johns Hopkins University Press. Bob is my editor, and he was manning the Hopkins Press booth in the exhibitor area.

I will miss Disunion after it wraps up next year, and am very curious to know how Risen will bring it to a conclusion.

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.

The MJF Edition of “Faces of the Civil War”

bookYesterday I received a few copies of a new edition of Faces of the Civil War: An Album of Union Soldiers and Their Stories. It is published by MJF Books in conjunction with The Johns Hopkins University Press, and is available at Barnes and Noble. If you’ve ever wondered how some books make it to the bargain section of B&N, this is how it happens!

There are two big differences in this edition. First is the jacket, which features a different Union soldier. Second is the weight—it’s much lighter due to lesser quality paper. This is reflected in the price, which is much lower than the original edition. Still, the content inside is unchanged.

My New Role as Publisher of Military Images Magazine

dave-ron-handshakeThis weekend Dave Neville (pictured, right) and I signed an agreement to finalize my purchase of Military Images magazine. Today I am delighted to share the news with all of you. MI was founded in 1979, and since then has enjoyed a long tradition of excellence in bringing to light rare military portrait photographs. Key to success has been the contributions of collectors, and I’ve been in contact with many of them to continue their relationship with the magazine.

My wife, Anne, will play a major role in the magazine, and I am grateful for her love and support. I simply could not take this responsibility on without her.

Here is the press release posted on social media today:

ARLINGTON, Va. — Historian David Neville has called it quits after a decade at the helm of Military Images. Neville, who has owned and edited the publication since 2003, sold the magazine to Ronald S. Coddington of Arlington, Va., in early August.

Coddington, who is familiar to Civil War News readers as the author of “Faces of War,” takes over as publisher and editor immediately. “Military Images has a long tradition of excellence in bringing to light rare military portrait photographs, and I am thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to guide MI to the next chapter in its life,” reports Coddington. He adds, “The magazine continues to play a key role in preserving the visual record and stories of citizen soldiers in America, and is a key source for information about uniforms and other aspects of the military. In the current digital age, with so much new material surfacing, it is more important than ever to have a publication that showcases and interprets these important images.”

Harry Roach founded the magazine in 1979. He set a mission to document the photographic history of U.S. soldiers and sailors from the birth of photography in 1839 through World War I, although the vast majority of published images date from the Civil War period. Roach sold the magazine in 1999 to Philip Katcher, from whom Neville purchased it four years later.

Regular contributors to MI include some of the most respected and knowledgeable collectors in the country, including Michael J. McAfee, John Sickles, Chris Nelson, David Wynn Vaughan, Ron Field, and Ken Turner.

“I’m excited to continue working with all of our contributors, and to invite new faces with a passion for military photography to participate,” notes Coddington, who can be contacted at militaryimages@gmail.com or militaryimagesmagazine.com.

My Next Book: “Faces of the Civil War Navy: An Album of Sailors and Their Stories.”

George W. MarchantI am pleased to announce the fourth volume of my Faces series: Faces of the Civil War Navy: An Album of Sailors and Their Stories. I’ve spent the last few months contemplating how to follow my first three books, which document major soldier perspectives in the Civil War: Union volunteers, Confederate volunteers, and African American participants. And I’ve concluded that the fourth major narrative is that of men, black and white, who served in the navies.

My book proposal includes this excerpt, which details why I believe these long-overlooked sailors should be the subject of the next volume:

A fourth major narrative is lesser known. It traces the lives and military service of those who served on Union and Confederate vessels during one of the most exciting times in world naval history—the transformation from wooden to ironclad warships.

Similar to their counterparts in the army, these volunteers came from a variety of backgrounds and aspired to serve their divided nation.

Those who joined the Union navy would play a crucial role in fulfilling the Anaconda Plan. The ambitious strategy devised by Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott in 1861 proposed to conquer the Confederacy by controlling seaports and the Mississippi River in the seceded states. The importance that Scott, who commanded all Union forces until forced into retirement due to his age and disabilities, attached to naval strategy as key to winning the war is significant. The subsequent success of the federal blockade along the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico did as much to end the war as major battlefield successes. Historians continue to debate whether the turning point of the war in favor of Union arms was the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) or the surrender of Vicksburg (July 4, 1863). The latter event effectively ended Confederate control of the Mississippi River.

Those who joined the Confederate navy were part of an effort to establish a fleet of warships with scant resources in the face of a well-equipped and organized foe. What the Southern navy lacked in men and materials, they made up for with innovative technology and improvised tactics. Witness the design and construction of the ironclad Virginia and the submarine H.L. Hunley.

I’ve started the search for images, including the above portrait of George W. Marchant. A native of Massachusetts, he served as an acting masters mate on the side-wheel steamer Augusta. Shortly after Marchant joined the crew in the spring of 1864, the Augusta was dispatched to protect California mail steamers under threat of attack by Confederate cruisers and passengers sympathetic to the Southern cause. The Augusta survived a perilous journey to Panama and back.

I could use your help. If you are aware of original, wartime, identified images of navy men up to the rank of captain, please be in touch!

New Review of “African American Faces of the Civil War” in “Kansas History” Magazine

Kansas History Summer 2013The summer 2013 issue of Kansas History magazine includes a review of my book by Kelly Erby, as assistant professor of history at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. Erby reviewed my volume along with Elizabeth D. Leonard’s Men of Color to Arms! Black Soldiers, Indian Wars, and the Quest for Equality.

Here is the portion of Erby’s article that address African American Faces of the Civil War:

Coddington’s book, as its title suggests, is an “album” composed of the photographs and personal stories of seventy-five African American participants in the Civil War. It is the third in the series written by Coddington, assistant managing editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education. (His first two works showcase photographs of white Union and Confederate soldiers, respectively.) Coddington reminds us that the images of black men in uniform are considerably difficult to find because black soldiers usually could not afford to have their pictures taken. The author spent two years discovering portraits all over the country in museums, archives, and private collections. Then, through the creative use of African American newspapers and pension records, Coddington pieced together the biography of each man pictured.

African American Faces of the Civil War, like the photographs it presents, captures the moment when black men in America transitioned from slaves to soldiers and the Civil War became about more than preserving the Union. Unlike any single photograph, however, Coddington’s book depicts this moment from a diverse variety of perspectives. There is the image and story of First Lieutenant William Dominick Matthews of Kansas, who operated a station along the Underground Railroad and was the ‘first man of color” to respond to Kansas senator James Henry Lane’s early proposal to recruit black troops (p. 37). In fact, Matthews not only responded to Lane’s call but also raised his own company of two hundred former slaves. As the regiment awaited formal authorization to join the Union army, some of the men participated in a skirmish at Island Mound in Missouri, becoming the first black troops to engage in combat during the war. Matthews, Coddington finds, echoed Douglass in encouraging his fellow black men to don the Union blue, declaring, “If we fight, we shall be respected. I see that a well-licked man respects the one who thrashes him” (p. 39). Coddington also recovers the story of Private Allen W. King, a Kentucky slave bought by a drafted physician to serve as his substitute in the Union army, a legal option that many Northerners exercised. In addition to soldiers, Coddington’s volume includes servants and laborers who never officially joined the USCT but who served the cause of freedom in other ways. As Coddington relates, all of these men confronted and helped to challenge generations of racism and down about the capabilities of their race.

Note: The above mentions the book contains 75 images, when in fact the total number is 77.

View the complete index to the Summer 2013 issue of Kansas History.