Sunday, April 7, 2013

Just Finished Reading - Faces of the Confederacy

As I mentioned at the end of my recent post about Ronald Coddington's African American Faces of the Civil War, I was looking forward to getting his earlier work, Faces of the Confederacy: An Album of Southern Soldiers and their Stories. A quick purchase from Amazon put a copy in my hands.

Structured much like the African American Faces book, Faces of the Confederacy examines 77 soldiers that fought for the South. Accompanying striking carte de visite photographs of these men are short biographies that give background information and help the reader identify with these soldiers on a personal level.

I think too often people dismiss attempting to understand Confederate soldiers due to their cause and because of our modern sensibilities. But without adequately viewing their situation from their unique perspective, I believe it is unfair to judge them in this way.

Coddington's mini-biographies do not attempt to provide false sympathy for his subjects, rather, he seeks to show that these soldiers were men of their time and location who brought a different world view to their situation and battled for what they believed was a superior cause that would sustain their way of life for their posterity.

Only a few of Coddington's selected soldiers were familiar to me by name - and none of their stories were ones that I knew well. That was one of the joys of reading about them. The soldiers that receive treatment in the book were largely line soldiers: privates, corporals, sergeants, lieutenants, captains.  Also covered to a lesser extent are majors and lieutenant colonels and some surgeons and chaplains. I believe this was a major strength of the book, however, I found myself wishing a few more privates would have been included instead of a larger number of lieutenants and captains.

As one might expect with such a large sample of stories, all Southern states that sent soldiers to the Confederate armies are represented. I was pleased to see such a large number of Kentucky soldiers receive examinations. The various branches of service (infantry, cavalry, and artillery) are all also represented. In addition, the fates of the soldiers are also well represented. Some of these men died of their battle wounds, some died of camp diseases, some were captured and served time in prison camps, and some made it back home beaten and broken.

It is difficult for us to put ourselves in the shoes of men who 150 years ago took up arms (many of which to fight for ideals we do not ascribe to today), but with books like Faces of the Confederacy, we have a better chance to truly comprehend each's unique situation and times in which they lived. I highly recommend Faces of the Confederacy, and on a scale of 1 to 5, give it a 4.75. Now I guess I just need to go ahead and get Faces of the Civil War: An Album of Union Soldiers and their Stories to complete my collection.

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