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Coddington Presents Southern Soldiers

By Michael J. Winey
Civil War News
August 2009

Faces of the Confederacy: An Album of Southern Soldiers and Their Stories by Ronald S. Coddington. Illustrated, footnotes, references, index, 288 pp., 2008. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2715 North Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218, $29.95 plus shipping.

Ron Coddington has done it again. This time the entire volume is filled with photographs of Confederates — soldiers and officers (none are generals) and short stories of each individual pictured.

Unlike Ron's first volume which was filled with photos of Union Army soldiers, most of which came from Ron's personal collection, the photos in this volume have been chosen from numerous collections and institutions.

He has done an excellent job of sorting through hundreds of available images to present many heretofore unpublished, or t least infrequently published, photos of identified Confederate soldiers, each of whom has a captivating personal story.

Let me first talk about the images. Many of the Confederate soldiers and officers portrayed are full-standing or full-seated views. Many others are at least three-quarter views. The variety of uniforms is a delight to the reader, especially if you are a uniform buff.

The accoutrements are plainly visible in many and one can easily see interesting belt plates. If you are a weapons collector or buff you will be pleased to see numerous patterns of long arms, revolvers and edged weapons.

Every photo in the volume is sharp and clear and a delight to the eye (for those who are interested in Confederate soldiers, of course). Those of you who are Yankee lovers only probably won't want to dirty your hands holding this very Southern-oriented book! For myself, I was pleased with each and every image printed so I never needed to wash my hands.

Many of the photos Ron Coddington used came from the legendary collection of William A. Turner. Finally we get to see some of that voluminous collection Bill has amassed over the years.

Another collector of note, and one who was very generous in sharing his images with the Military History Institute while I was curator there, is John Sickles. Early on John was collecting mostly Yankee cavalrymen, but he crossed the lines and began adding some good Confederate images to his aggregation as well.

A collector I didn't know is David Wynn Vaughan. The reader of Ron's Faces of the Confederacy will be gratified to see some of Dave's fine accumulation.

Also represented are two nationally known collections of great Confederate images at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Va., and the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina, Columbia. And finally, several Confederate images are from the author's personal collection for which Ron shows very good taste.

Ron Coddington is a journalist by training and trade and he puts his writing skills to excellent use when he writes the basic biographies of each soldier he pictures. He has proven himself to be an exceptional historian and researcher as well.

Some of the information for his 77 vignettes came from the images' owners. For many, Ron had to do research to fill out the stories. It takes from two months to a year to track down pertinent material which he then distills into about two pages of text for each individual. His writing style is graphic, lucid and thoroughly interesting.

Every man has his own interesting story. Some were slave owners, some owned no slaves. Some were poor dirt farmers while others were rich plantation owners. Some were teenagers, others were past mid-life.

Some were born in the North and had moved South before the war or resided above the Mason-Dixon Line before the war but were true to their native state when the Southern states seceded. Some did not survive the war for a variety of reasons.

Ron gives an interesting list of statistics that is very poignant when the cost of the war in human lives is considered: "In those forty-eight months, about 134,000 (Southern soldiers) perished, an average of about ninety soldiers per day, some were killed in battle, some died later of battle wounds, or succumbed to disease, or suffered death while prisoners of war.

On average, twenty-two of eery one hundred males who went to war did not return home. A large number of survivors endured permanent disabilities."

In this volume you will read the stories of men who experienced one of the above circumstances. Sadly, one who survived the war, and had a wife and family, on Jan. 25, 1888, "placed the muzzle of a pistol just above his right ear and pulled the trigger." I'll leave it up to the reader to determine if he, too, was a casualty of the war.

Years ago, William A. Albaugh III published two volumes of Confederate Faces. Several other like volumes followed by other authors which were sort of a follow-on to Albaugh's tomes. None of those gave biographical information.

Ron S. Coddington has presented us with a volume of wonderful photographs of Confederate soldiers and officers and riveting stories of each individual pictured. It is a book that you just want to read one more story before you put it down, and then you want to read one more. You may read all 77 in one sitting it simply captivates you. I highly recommend Faces of the Confederacy to every reader of Civil War News.

Michael J Winey, who has a BS in history and MS in history museum training, was a curator for more than 25 years and is retired from the U.S. Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pa.


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