Friday, February 27, 2009

The Technology Generation

Living in a world of innovative technical solutions. Pushing the envelope of science and discovery. Participating in the democratization of the visual medium.

These phrases bring to mind the current generation of young men and women in our work force. Born in the mid-eighties, they were the first to grow up with personal computers. Today, they are among the early adopters of the latest digital technologies and are quick to play in emerging platforms.

Reminds me of another group of individuals: The Civil War generation. The young men who volunteered to serve in the Union and Confederate armies were the first to grow up with photography. These are the same young men whose childhood likenesses were captured by daguerreotypists in the early forties. It is no surprise that these are the same soldiers who marched to their hometown photographer’s studio in droves and sat for their carte de visite portrait.

The Internet generation will come of age in the next decade. Perhaps they will share a common thread with the first generation to grow up with a newspaper, some 350 years ago.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Forthcoming History of the Fifth Illinois Cavalry

In the course of researching the life and military service of Capt. Benjamin B. Hopkins of the Fifth Illinois Cavalry (pictured here), my request for information posted on the Civil War Message Board Portal received a response from Rhonda Kohl. She sent me a great letter referencing Hopkins, copied from the Illinois State Archives. In return for her kindness, I sent her a high-resolution scan of Hopkins' carte de visite for use in her forthcoming regimental history, The Prairie Boys Go to War: The Fifth Illinois cavalry, 1861-1865.

Rhonda's book promises to be an excellent addition to the library of Civil War regimental histories, and I look forward with great anticipation to its publication.

If you have information about the Fifth, please contact Rhonda at

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lt. Col. Henry Chew's Hottest Battle

I've been researching the military service of Lt. Col. Henry Chew with the idea of highlighting his actions at the Bliss Barn during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Among the first details I learned of his war experience was how he came perilously close to being struck by a cannon ball at Gettysburg, and how he had been involved in keeping Confederate sharpshooters in check at the Bliss Barn until overwhelmed by superior numbers.

I continued working the Bliss Barn story, poring over various accounts, while also tracking down other source material related to other events in Chew's civilian and army life.

Last week at the Library of Congress, I requested History of the Men of Co. F, With Description of the Marches and Battles of the 12th New Jersey Vols., by Pvt. William P. Haines, a member of the company. Hoping to find more detail about Chew, I felt the request was a bit of a long shot, for Chew never served in this company.

Turns out Co. F is a remarkable read, chock full of detail. It is divided into three parts: A history of the battles in which it participated, profiles of every man who served in Company F, and an update on what became of them. The second part is most unique, for the profiles are detailed and interesting without overwhelming the reader. However, the first part caught my attention, as various writers from the company and regiment penned chapters about each battle. Chew wrote the chapter on Ream's Station. He noted that of all the battles in which he participated in, this was the hottest.

Instantly I knew that my profile of Chew would focus on his role at Ream's Station. Thanks to Pvt. Haines and his most excellent Co. F.

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CWBA Blog Review

Andrew Wagenhoffer of the Civil War Books and Authors blog reviewed Faces of the Confederacy. An excerpt:

"The overall presentation of this volume is first-rate. The full-page CDV images are crisp reproductions, and the full cloth binding and heavy, glossy paper make for a distinctly attractive and weighty volume. The book has the heft of a much larger tome. Faces of the Confederacy will appeal to serious photography enthusiasts and collectors, as well as those readers captivated by the personal stories of Civil War soldiers."

Read the full review.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Abraham Lincoln at 200

The marking of President Lincoln's 200th birthday brings to mind the iconic portraits of his uniquely-shaped face, careworn and expressive of the public and private burdens he carried during our country's greatest national crisis and struggle for freedom and equality.

This bicentennial also causes me to recall the faces of the citizen soldiers who went to war in the armies of "Father Abraham," for it was them who set aside their personal pursuits and laid down their lives for an American idea much larger than themselves, their generation, and the founders that envisioned a democratic society.

I have had the pleasure and honor to write about these volunteers for almost a decade; more than two hundred profiles as of today. For all the identified photographs I have researched, there are many, many more unidentified images whose stories are yet to be told as their names are lost to history.

To help put a name to these forgotten faces, I produced Unidentified Veterans, a Flickr photostream. Please take a look. Perhaps you can help bring to life one of the men who built the legacy of "Father Abraham."

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Confederate Faces Reviewed by Fort Sumter Historian

Richard W. Hatcher, the historian of the Fort Sumter National Monument, reviewed Faces of the Confederacy for the The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C. The complete review is available on the newspaper's website,

Hatcher ends the review by capturing an essential element that drives my interest in these citizen soldiers, "Coddington reveals the human face of a war fought by fathers, husbands, sons and brothers. Their faces provide a compelling and tangible link with some of the men who 'wore the gray.'"

One of the men in gray that likely caught Mr. Hatcher's attention is Capt. Francis Huger Harleston of the First South Carolina Artillery. A member of the Citadel's Class of 1860, Harleston spent most of the war defending Fort Sumter. The young South Carolinian's complete profile appears in Faces of the Confederacy, and is illustrated with a carte de visite portrait from the collection of William A. Turner.

I learned an interesting bit of information about cartes de visite from Mr. Hatcher, who noted, "Twenty-five of them could be purchased for $1, roughly $160 in today's currency." While the carte de visite is recognized for democratizing portrait photography in part by offering more affordable prices compared to earlier formats, clearly a photograph was still an investment.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Extended Version of the AJC Review

Writer Bill Hendrick informs me that an extended version of the review that originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been published on the Georgia Online News Service. The article includes more details and quotes.

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