Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Alabama in the Civil War

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Alabama in the Civil War

Article excerpt

Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Alabama in the Civil War. By Ben H. Severance. Foreword by Carl Moneyhon and Bobby Roberts. Portraits of Conflict Series. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2012. Pp. [xii], 387. $65.00, ISBN 978-1-55728-989-6.)

This tenth and latest volume in the magisterial Portraits of Conflict Series addresses Alabama's role in the Civil War through photographs, biographical sketches of those pictured, and adept analysis of the war's impact on Alabama (and vice versa). The series editors explain that these volumes have "a specific purpose--an emphasis upon the individual's experience of war" (p. xi). Author Ben H. Severance gives the war "a human face by presenting the reader an array of still images that preserve the faces of some of the actual participants" (p. vii). Each chapter features a brief topical history followed by images of individuals who helped make that history. This structure assists readers in understanding the effect of the war on specific soldiers, sailors, and politicians, as well as the parts they played in the epic struggle.

This weighty tome provides a cogent study of Alabama and the war in chapters from Montgomery's function as "The Cradle of the Confederacy" through the South's "Retreat and Defeat," the "Alabama Home Front," and finally "Reconstruction and Legacy." Severance conveys this history in a masterful manner. Discussion of military strategies and tactics rolls off the tongue of this former army officer, whose understanding of the trials and tribulations of officer and enlisted man alike is matched by his command of the jargon of the field.

The book includes good-quality photographic reproductions from public and private sources, but the images serve more as illustrations of the grand narrative of the war and the (all too often) short stories of the combatants than as documentary evidence of the life and times of those pictured. The subjects of the photographs are identified but none are dated, and few forts, ships, battlefields, or historic buildings are included, presumably because few such photographs were made in Alabama, which saw relatively little warfare and correspondingly few Union photographers. …

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