Washington Post Reports on the Chandler Tintype Donation

chandlerReporter Mike Ruane wrote about the unusual photograph of Andrew Martin Chandler of the 44th Mississippi Infantry and family slave Silas in today’s Post. The image was donated to the Library of Congress by Tom Liljenquist, who learned about the image from my book, African American Faces of the Civil War. The image originally appeared on a 2009 segment of PBS Antiques Roadshow.

The Antiques Roadshow segment was brought to my attention by Richert Salondaka, with whom I became acquainted when my wife, Anne, and I lived in Northern California back in the late 1980s and early 90s. I remember Richert noting that this has got to be in my book! he was right. I tracked down the owner of the photograph, and eventually obtained permission to publish it in African American Faces.

Since then, the photo has appeared on PBS History Detectives, and it continues to be the subject of conversation about slavery and the Confederacy.

Now it is in the Library of Congress—and it belongs to the American people.

An excerpt from Ruane’s story:

Liljenquist bought the photograph from descendants of Andrew Chandler on Aug. 15 and immediately gave it over to the library. “I owned it for about 10 minutes,” he said last week.

He declined to say how much it cost or identify the owner. But five years ago, on the “Antiques Roadshow” television program, the picture was said to be worth $30,000 to $40,000.

In an interview at the library, he said the photo captured “two remarkable young men … (who) look very sincere, maybe a little bit scared, maybe not.”

Read the full story.

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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.

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!

Latest “Faces of War” Column: “Something Got the Matter with My Head”

PinckneyMy latest Civil War News ”Faces of War” column is now available. Pvt. John Pinckney was born into bondage on a prosperous rice-growing plantation in coastal South Carolina, and left to join the 104th U.S. Colored Infantry. He enlisted on April 13, 1865—four days after Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia and the day before the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

An excerpt:

One friend recalled, “When he came home he came right to see me in Georgetown, where I was living, and he had on his soldier clothes,” and added, “After he came home he went by the name Pinckney all the time — that was his father’s name.”

Read the full story.

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.

The Fifty-Fourth Tells It With Pride

mendez-coddington-cruzLast Tuesday night’s reception at the National Gallery of Art for the opening of the new exhibit about the Shaw Memorial and the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry was extraordinary.

At one point in the evening, as Anne and I were looking into the case in which my photograph of Maj. John W.M. Appleton was displayed next to his diary (on loan from the West Virginia University), a man came up and introduced himself. He was Carl Cruz, the great-great-grandnephew of Sgt. William H. Carney. Those of you who know the Fifty-fourth remember that Sgt. Carney carried the Stars and Stripes at Fort Wagner. He suffered several wounds that terrible night, and upon returning told a group of survivors, “Boys, the old flag never touched the ground.”

Carl is a great guy, and we had a wonderful chat next to the framed Medal of Honor that Carney received for his actions at Fort Wagner. Carl told me he used to play with the medal, take it to school, show it to his friends!

In this photo, Carl stands on the right. On the left is his cousin, Joseph Mendez.

There were a number of other attendees that we met. Chris Foard is a collector of Civil War nurse photos, letters and other personal items. Several images from his holdings were on display. Peter Drummey, the Stephen T. Riley Librarian at the Massachusetts Historical Society, chatted with Anne and I in front of the Shaw Memorial. Among the topics we chatted about was Benjamin Butler. We had many stories to share, and both agreed that although the political general is known for his sordid dealings in politics, he also had a heart of gold who worked tirelessly for his constituents.

We also met old friends and acquaintances, including curators Sarah Greenough and Lindsay Harris. Sarah provided introductory remarks at the press opening earlier that day (I attended), and her words reflected her deep understanding of the importance of the memorial both as a work of art and as a reminder to us of the courage and sacrifice of the men who served in the regiment.

The exhibit opens tomorrow. It will travel to Boston in early 2014. Don’t miss it!

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.