New book chronicles Civil War from viewpoint of ordinary soldiers|
Georgia Online News Service
Faces of the Confederacy: An Album of Southern Soldiers and Their Stories"
Ronald S. Coddington
Johns Hopkins University Press
Available in all major bookstores and on Amazon.com
Faces of the Confederacy was a featured selection in January for the History of the Month Book Club
Editor's Note: Photographs of Georgia soldiers may be called up on the Web at links listed below.
Athens, GA — Unlike most of the tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War, William G. Delony finally returned to his roots and is buried in a marked grave in Athens' historic Oconee Hills Cemetery, just off the campus of the University of Georgia.
Delony, who graduated with honors from UGA in 1846, is profiled in a new book, "Faces of the Confederacy," authored by Ronald S. Coddington, who earned his degree from UGA in 1985.
Coddington, now art director for USA Today, didn't set out to profile Delony, who died in a Union hospital after the Battle of Gettysburg and was buried in Washington, D.C., until reinterred in Oconee Hills.
Indeed, Delony is just one of 77 Confederate soldiers, including many from Georgia, who're pictured and profiled in Coddington's new and meticulously researched book.
But Delony's story is typical of the profiles. Coddington first found the photographs, borrowing from collectors famous in their own right, then spent years searching through dusty archives and attics.
Delony is one of the older and highest-ranking rebel soldiers in the book. His chapter relates that he was elected captain of an Athens unit that became Company C of Cobb's Legion. Delony, Coddington found, had "a weakness for alcohol," which concerned the Legion's colonel, T.R.R. Cobb. Still, Delony was "loved by his men," one of them wrote, and "fought like a mad boar."
Though wounded at Gettysburg, he died in a Washington hospital, where he'd been taken after suffering a leg wound at the little known Battle of Jack's Shop, Sept. 22, 1863.
Such is what you'll find the book. He has files in his home on every man.
Delony, for instance, was admitted to Stanton U.S. Army General Hospital at the intersection of New Jersey Avenue and I Street in Washington, and died of gangrene two weeks later. His personal effects, including a telescope, a gold pencil and case and an unrecorded amount of money, were given to a physician, who sent them back to Athens.
The book is full of such details, which bring not only the dead soldiers to live, but the whole strange era.
For example, one photo is signed, "Your son, J.J."
Pvt. James J. McKinley of Company H, Fourth Georgia Infantry, sent it home after sitting somewhat anxiously for a new-fangled "carte de visit" photograph. But oddly, he added the letters "McK," as if his parents wouldn't know who'd sent it. He apparently never left Georgia, Coddington writes, though his unit did.
And his visage is stoic, like all of the others. Not one of the soldiers in the book is smiling, but there's a reason. Photography during the Civil War required subjects to remain motionless for up to 30 seconds. Even the slightest movement would blur the image. All of the boys and men look rigid, anxious and tired, and it's not hard to imagine loneliness and fear in their countenances. They had gone off to war, one that claimed the lives of more than 289,000 Confederate soldiers, and all knew well that the images for which they were posing could shape the memories held by their loved ones, should they never return.
Happily for his family, McKinley, 17, survived various battles against Gen. William T. Sherman's federal army after it invaded northern Georgia, but still died young of yellow fever 13 years later.
He's not typical of the Confederates pictured in the book, however. Most images are of men like Delony — officers or sons of families of fairly prominent Georgians.
After the first two years of the 1861-65 conflict, the Union's blockade made processing supplies rare, and images too expensive for most ordinary Confederates.
While Coddington, 45, found some of the images in dusty archives, most came from prominent collectors like David Wynn Vaughan of Atlanta. Vaughan, whose personal Civil War collection itself is famous, says he's always been fascinated by photos from that era.
"The pictures are direct links back to that era, and they all tell stories just by looking at them," he says. "But Ron's research is amazing, and he's found facts that had been lost by families and history."
The secret of the book's success, Vaughan says, is that "his words together with the photographs give readers an emotional connection."
Or in Coddington's words, "The history of the Civil War is the stories of its soldiers." The pictures, in reality only four-by two-and-a-half inches, are presented full page. And small enlighten the quirkiness and weird formality of the Victorian era at all levels of society.
William Proby Young, a surgeon in the same regiment as McKinley, served "heroically" in the Battle of Antietam, according to an official report found by Coddington. But after the war, he didn't return home, but settled in Washington, D.C., where he married, had four girls and practiced medicine.
But being a doctor back then may not have been as lucrative as now. Young also worked as a real estate broker and secretary of a fire insurance company before dying at age 78 in 1912.
Lt. John Lewis Ells Jr., born in Bibb County and wounded at Antietam, named his third child, a daughter, Jefferson Davis "Jeffie" Ells. He also moved north, to Baltimore, where he worked as a newspaperman and died in 1889 at 60.
Pvt. James D. Means, a gaunt, skinny member of the Fifth Georgia Reserve Infantry, died of disease just shy of his 19th birthday in Macon. An obituary Coddington dug up said the youth was "obedient and very affectionate to his parents."
Coddington, who met his wife Anne while majoring in art in Athens, started collecting photographs at 14, and as an aspiring artist, "drew portraits of all the major historical figures in my textbooks." He bought pictures at flea markets, Civil War shows, then later on eBay.
Vaughan, from whose collection Coddington uses 11 images, says "the book is a giant learning experience."
Though only the rich could afford to be photographed in the early days of the art, technological advances had sparked a craze by the time the Civil War started. Inventors had found a way to print photographs on small cards, and carte de visite pictures cost about $1 for 25 copies.
Coddington's prose is as unpretentious as the faces he shares, yet it is authoritative. It resurrects details that broaden our understanding of those sad times, and sheds valuable light on the shape of modern culture.
The book is a companion to Coddington's 2004 work, "Faces of the Civil War: An Album of Union Soldiers and Their Stories". But those pictures were much easier to find, in part because the South was in a state of economic depression and social breakdown for decades after Lee's surrender, and people struggling to survive were less likely than their northern counterparts to spend money or take any pains at all to save pictures — or even remember much about rebellious ancestors.
That's what makes this latest work is so impressive. Not only did he find the few prominent collectors of extremely rare Civil War photographs, but — as the end-notes of the book make obvious —spent years digging through rare manuscripts, magazines and dust-mite-filled letters and diaries.
"It was a labor of love," Coddington says.
Bill Hendrick covered science, health, business, the Legislature and foreign policy during his 29.6 years at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. [full bio]