Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album

Article excerpt

African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album. By Ronald S. Coddington. Foreword by J. Matthew Gallman. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012. Pp. xliv, 398. $29.95, ISBN 978-1-4214-0625-1.)

African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album is the third volume of a series of Civil War photography albums by Ronald S. Coddington. Like its antecedents, Faces of the Civil War: An Album of Union Soldiers and Their Stories (Baltimore, 2004) and Faces of the Confederacy : An Album of Southern Soldiers and Their Stories (Baltimore, 2008), African American Faces of the Civil War collects portraits of dozens of Civil War participants from public archives and private collections, each one framed by a narrative sketch of the subject's life and military record.

Portrayed in tintypes, ambrotypes, and cartes de visite, the images in African American Faces of the Civil War all reflect the attitude of proud self-possession they were clearly collected to depict. But for scholars, like me, who approach Coddington's volume in the hope of adding another critical work to our growing libraries of books on black visual culture, this is probably not that work. Despite the dozens of proud or provocative or gripping images Coddington has uncovered, he is uninterested in their technical photographic properties or in the culture of picture-making in which they were produced and gained meaning. Fortunately, J. Matthew Gallman situates African American Faces of the Civil War in precisely the desired light, allowing that these images "demonstrate[d] to others larger truths about race and masculinity," but this foreword is too little finally to realize the fuller history that Coddington's portraits could tell (p. xxi).

Nevertheless, African American Faces of the Civil War remains instructive in one aspect, at least. …

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