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.

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.

“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.

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.