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Faces of the Confederacy, An Album of Southern Soldiers and Their Stories

By James Hedtke, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, History and Political Science, Cabrini College
Journal of Southern History
May 1, 2010

Civil War statistics paint a picture that depicts the enormity of this pivotal struggle in American history. Nearly three million Americans served in the armed forces of the North and the South. An estimated 620,000 soldiers perished in the conflict. The size and power of these numbers often rob individual participants of their identities. Historians of the Civil War tend to focus on specific battles, combat units, or leaders, which further diminishes the role of the individual combat soldier in this epic struggle. In the end, it was the faceless citizen soldiers faithfully performing their duty who decided the destiny of the American nation.

In Faces of the Confederacy: An Album of Southern Soldiers and Their Stories, Ronald S. Coddington has put a face on some of these soldiers. He has gathered from several collections seventy-seven original cartes de visite of Confederate soldiers below the rank of colonel. The author chronicles the story of the common southern soldier by accompanying each photograph with a brief biographical sketch of the individual. Each profile is meticulously researched and thoroughly documented. Each places the soldier's service to the Confederacy in context with the rest of his life. Among the more interesting soldiers Coddington examines are Lieutenant Colonel James Porter Parker (George Armstrong Custer's roommate at West Point); Sergeant William Crawford Smith (who later served in the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War); Assistant Surgeon William McNeill Whistler (the artist James Whistler's brother); and guerrilla Lee McMurtry (after the war an alleged associate of Jesse James).

About three-quarters of the profiles focus on Confederate junior officers rather than enlisted men. More than 85 percent of the men whom Coddington examines survived the war. This is a much higher percentage than the slightly less than 70 percent survival rate for southern soldiers in general. Seven were doctors in the Confederate army, while five were members of the so-called Immortal 600 (Confederate prisoners of war whom Union authorities transferred to Charleston, South Carolina).

There is little to criticize and much to praise about this work. There is some imbalance between the coverage of officers versus enlisted men as well as some repetition of narrative in the biographical profiles. These small criticisms are outweighed by Coddington's extensive research, fascinating characters, and visual presentation of common southern soldiers. The work contains an index, endnotes, and an exhaustive list of references. The author has done an admirable job of literally placing a face on the ordinary Confederate soldier. The work provides another tile in the developing mosaic of Civil War social history and is a welcome complement to Coddington's Faces of the Civil War: An Album of Union Soldiers and Their Stories (Baltimore, 2004).

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