Thursday, March 04, 2010

Piston & Sweeney: "Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Missouri in the Civil War"

[ Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Missouri in the Civil War by William Garrett Piston and Thomas P. Sweeney (University of Arkansas Press, 2009). 8.5 x 11 cloth, 243 photos, index. 360 pages. ISBN: 978-1-55728-913-1 $65 ]

Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Missouri in the Civil War is the ninth volume of University of Arkansas Press's long running Portraits of Conflict series. It shares the format and comprehensive coverage of previous entries, several of which have garnered awards. Co-authors William Garrett Piston and Thomas Sweeney are well suited to the task of compiling images of the Civil War in Missouri. Piston, a Missouri State University history professor, has published many books and articles dealing with the war in the Trans-Mississippi, and retired radiologist Sweeney was once the proprietor of one of the finest private regional artifact collections in existence.

Consistent with the other series volumes, Piston and Sweeney begin the Missouri entry with a short summary of the careers of various photographers that did business in the state. The antebellum period, the decisive first year that secured the state for the Union, Confederate offensives and raids, the guerrilla war, the importance of Missouri industry to the navy, hospitals and medical care, the service of Missourians outside the state, and the legacy of the war are subjects covered in eight additional chapters. Each section is accompanied by a lengthy narrative introduction, that taken together form a reasonably comprehensive summary of Missouri's Civil War.

A great strength of this book is its avoidance of the trap of (over)emphasizing the irregular war in the state. Photographs of regulars, guerrillas, and militia members from both sides are abundant. Guerrilla warfare was certainly a key component of the conflict in Missouri, but its constant overshadowing (in both the popular and scholarly literature) of the great number of regular actions and campaigns fought within the state's borders remains the bane of those students wishing to know more about them.

As one might guess from the title, the overwhelming majority of photographs are of individuals -- soldiers, sailors, civilians, physicians, politicians, ex-slaves, and veterans. Familiar images are mixed in with those never before published, and one of the volume's great appeals is just how fresh the image compilation is, even for those readers well steeped in the Missouri literature. A caption accompanies each photograph. Usually of a dual nature, these provide a short biography or background sketch before describing a specific event of importance the subject was directly involved in.

Material quality and overall presentation are excellent. Naturally, the clarity of the image reproduction varies with the state of the original, but the quality, high gloss paper used by the publisher enhances the visual and tactile experiences of the reader. The Missouri volume is an excellent addition to the Portraits of Conflict series, and well worth the effort of libraries, researchers, and period photography enthusiasts to obtain.


Other CWBA reviews of U. of Ark. Press titles:
* Army Life: From a Soldier’s Journal
* The Fate of Texas: The Civil War and the Lone Star State
* A Rough Introduction to this Sunny Land (Butler Center)
* Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861-1865
* A Thrilling Narrative
* Confederate Guerrilla
* Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence on the Confederate Home Front
* Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Tennessee in the Civil War
* Civil War Arkansas: Beyond Battles and Leaders
* "I Acted From Principle": The Civil War Diary Of Dr. William M. McPheeters, Confederate Surgeon In The Trans-Mississippi
* Autobiography of Samuel S. Hildebrand

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