A pictorial guide to the changes in our historical views of the Civil War, curated by Gallman (History/Univ. of Florida; Northerners at War, 2010, etc.) and Gallagher (History/Univ. of Virginia; The Union War, 2012, etc.).
Though these iconic photographs of the war were often included in scholarly works, the authors realized that few actually took the time to analyze the pictures themselves. This book opens a new page of considerations of the people, victims and ruins; the home front, slaves, women, guerrillas and “the Destructive War.” Gallman and Gallagher asked a wide network of professors, authors and independent researchers to choose their favorite photo from the Civil War and write an essay about it. The result will awaken new awareness, but the rawness of the war may upset some readers. One author kindly warns animal lovers that his essay about a picture of a dead horse may be tough going. This isn’t just a coffee-table book to pick up randomly, as the authors suggest; it can be read in a few hours, and each essay naturally moves readers on to the next. Though many of these photos have been “staged,” in that bodies were moved or guns and survivors placed to improve composition, that doesn’t reduce their power. These Civil War writers, experts and teachers each explain their reasons for choosing a photo; often, it harkens back to seeing it as a child and using that experience as a launching point for a career. The essays freely challenge the ethics of war photography; one asks, “When is it not all right to take an image of something?” When must we leave death alone? Pictures are natural entrees into imagination, but we must understand the difference between history and memory. Particularly noteworthy contributors include Harold Holzer, Joseph T. Glatthaar and Elizabeth R. Varon.
A brilliant starting point for truly understanding the Civil War. As the authors point out, there is still much to explore.