Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Just Finished Reading - African American Faces of the Civil War

I mentioned a few weeks back in one of my posts that I thought Facebook was proving more and more to be an excellent place to find out about what is going on in the field of history. In addition, it seems that more and more publishers and authors are using the social media giant to market their books. I am sure this not surprising to anyone since the whole idea of Facebook anyway is to make connections and share information.

On Facebook I noticed that several friends had "liked" Ronald S. Coddington and his series of "Faces" books. Intrigued, I checked into them on and found a used but clean copy of African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album.

African American Faces of the Civil War is one of those books that is difficult to put down when you crack it open. The basis of the book is a group of 77 photographic images, gathered from diverse locations and of mainly of the carte de visite and tintypes formats of African Americans - civilians, servants, slaves, and soldiers - and the stories of the men in those images.

Two African American regiments that were distinctly different get significant attention in the book. Eleven soldiers from the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry get covered, while ten men from the 108th United States Colored Infantry are examined. While the 54th Massachusetts was composed largely of Northern free men of color, the 108th USCI was made up mainly of former slaves from Kentucky. It is not surprising that many photographs of the 54th would remain extant since they have been remembered well in history for their battlefield exploits. However, for a unit like the 108th, which saw relatively little combat and spent much of their time in garrison and prison duty, having so many photographs come to light is a real treat. Fortunately, an officer of the 108th kept a large number of images of the men that served under him and annotated each one.

I was pleased to find that a great many of the men profiled in African American Faces had Kentucky connections. That only makes since, as the Bluegrass State provided more USCT soldiers than any other state except Louisiana.

Coddington went to great lengths to tell these men's stories. He utilized their service and pension records, but also researched state and local history repositories to provide the accurate backgrounds, war records, and post war years that the men lived and experienced. And, while many of the men struggled through similar trials and tribulations due to their backgrounds, all also had unique facets to their lives.

As previously mentioned, African American Faces of the Civil is a real page-turner. You will not be disappointed with this book. I highly recommend it and would suggest that it be required reading for any Civil War enthusiast - especially during the current Sesquicentennial. On a scale from one to five, I give it a full five.   
I have ordered Coddington's Faces of the Confederacy: An Album of Southern Soldiers and Their Stories and am looking forward to reading it as soon as it arrives. If it is half as interesting as African American Faces I will be pleased.

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