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Books in brief: Faces of the Civil War

By Diane Scharper
The Weekly Standard
Nov. 22, 2004

After the 1862 Battle of Malvern Hill, Captain Motier Lafayette Norton contracted typhoid fever, which left him so debilitated that he resigned from the Eighteenth New York Infantry. But inspired by his "great love for liberty and our country," Norton joined the newly formed Invalid Corps and performed quartermaster duties in military hspitals. When the Civil War ended, Norton, still plagued, was urged to file for a disability pension but "felt delicate about asking aid from the government."

Norton is just one of the ordinary soldiers featured in Faces of the Civil War, a collection of photographs and short biographies. A visual journalist, Coddington collects cartes de visite, small prints invented by a French photographer in 1854. To these, Coddington adds colorful excerpts from letters, newspapers, and official documents.

The result is an engaging and human portrait of the Civil War: from the oldest soldier (a sixty-four-year-old chaplain, thought too old until he was seen praying amid a hail of bullets beside a dying soldier) to the youngest (a sixteen-year-old rendered "sunstroke insensible for hours"). The most heroic may be the watchmaker who extinguished a tent fire with his bare hands, burning himself so badly that he could neither feed nor dress himself.

These biographies provide insight into the grandparents of those considered today to be the "greatest generation," suggesting the patriotism motivating World War II soldiers was more than just a temporary belief. It was something painstakingly handed down from one generation to the next.

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