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Book Review, NRJ 63.1

February 15, 2018 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

Faces of the Civil War Navies: An Album of Union and Confederate Sailors
Ronald S. Coddington

Photographs, and the stories they tell, are rare among Civil War literature. Faces of the Civil War Navies unearths photographs, known as cartes de visite, and offers details of their origin. Both Union and Confederate navies have a rich history, although many of their contributions are not familiar to the average historical reader. The author, Ronald S. Coddington, is a photographer by trade, although his previous books testify to his abilities as a historian. His writing style offers vital details of each individual’s life. This tactic allows the author to include more soldiers and sailors, which benefits the book. The author does not include just the name of each alongside a picture, rather he covers the key aspects of their war experience. Each cartes de visite has a unique story to tell beyond the blank stare usually seen throughout Civil War photography.

A compelling aspect of Faces of the Civil War Navies is the author’s choice to include both navies in the book. In doing so, he displays professionalism at the highest level free of any bias. It would be easy to mention just the Union Navy given the abundance of material available compared to their counterpart. Choosing to track down both sides exemplifies the author’s dedication to the topic. He identifies more Union figures due to the lack of Confederate cartes de visite available today, but all soldiers and sailors chronicled in the book risked their lives for a cause they deemed important. Mentioning participants from both sides allows a fuller understanding of both navies during the war.

The author’s choice to incorporate all figures of rank into his book is admirable. Listing over seventy different profiles, alongside their cartes de visite, bolsters his objective further. Finding information relating to officers, while difficult, pales in comparison to that of enlisted men. The author has managed to track enlisted men’s stories through multiple avenues proving his devotion to exhaustive research. While common in historical writing, this research is unusual given the proclivities of photographers and the author’s use of cartes de visite.

Faces of the Civil War Navies pursues a new angle of studying sailors of both the Confederate and Union Navies. This angle is presented in the form of cartes de visite with each one being unique from another. Photography, while not widely available during the Civil War, has become integral to the study of this particular subject. Additionally, the author displays immense passion by offering personal details connected to each cartes de visite. Placing stories along with faces provides a sense of connection to every soldier or sailor. Faces of the Civil War Navies offers an enjoyable reading experience across all levels of academia.

  • Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016
  • 6” x 9”, hardcover, xxxiii + 401 pages
  • Photographs, notes, references, index. $32.95
  • ISBN: 9781421421360

Reviewed by Daniel Krentz, East Carolina University

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