Monday, October 29, 2007

McCaslin: "Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Tennessee in the Civil War"

[Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Tennessee in the Civil War by Richard B. McCaslin (University of Arkansas Press, 2007) Cloth, 250 photos, notes, appendix, bibliography, index. Pp. 430 ISBN: 978-1-55728-831-8 $59.95]
I must admit to being entirely new to the Portraits of Conflict series. Always curious, I'd never had to opportunity to hold one in my hands until now. Previous volumes include those for the states of Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina. This new Tennessee addition to the series is the first in nine years.

The study begins with a short summary of the careers of various photographers that did business in the state. With chapters covering secession and Reconstruction bookending those centering on the main Tennessee campaigns and battles, the book's focus is not entirely military. Each chapter includes an introduction by McCaslin and the heading additionally provides a thematic focus for the photographs and captions that follow. It is a structure that works quite well.

The images selected for inclusion in the study range from the very familiar to the never before published. The 200-300 word (or more) caption attached to each photograph begins with a placement of the image in the context of the particular chapter where it resides. This is followed by a brief history or biography of the subject. In keeping with the largely military theme of the chapters, the majority of photographic subjects are carte de visite-type images of soldiers. No landscapes can be recalled, but images of women, politicians, and gunboats were also included.

Note should be made of the exceptional material quality and aesthetic presentation of this volume. Upon lifting it, one immediately notices the book's weight relative to other publications of similar dimension. Pages are made from high grade, high gloss paper and the fine cloth binding is sturdy. The original photographs vary in condition (some of the selections are badly deteriorated), but the reproductions of the best preserved images are exceptional in clarity. If this Tennessee volume is indicative of the quality of the series as a whole, these studies should be considered essential additions to institutional libraries and the bookshelves of Civil War photography enthusiasts.

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