Friday, November 5, 2021

Booknotes: Port Hudson

New Arrival:
Port Hudson: The Most Significant Battlefield Photographs of the Civil War by Lawrence Lee Hewitt (UT Press, 2021).

As a former manager of Port Hudson State Historic Site (I didn't realize until now that he was the first) and the author of one of the best books on the campaign (1987's Port Hudson, Confederate Bastion on the Mississippi), Larry Hewitt has become synonymous with Vicksburg, Jr. His newest book, Port Hudson: The Most Significant Battlefield Photographs of the Civil War, has been long in the making.

After becoming the Port Hudson site manager, Hewitt immediately began collecting photographs, and he "has now brought his four decades of research and collecting together in this book. The quantity, diversity, and in some cases uniqueness of these photos help widen our perspective not only on Port Hudson and the Civil War’s impact on its people and environment, but also on the history of photography."

In keeping with the best practices of modern Civil War photographic studies, this volume includes information about the practitioner (Hewitt has identified six contributors to this collection) as well as the craft of mid-nineteenth century photography. From the description: "Together the six cameramen claimed many “firsts,” including the first-ever photograph of soldiers engaged in battle, first exterior shots at night, and first “composition print.” The collection—arranged chronologically—allows readers to follow the changes in the landscape during and after the siege. The sheer range of subjects represented is impressive. A cotton gin, a grist mill, and a Methodist church—all showing signs of damage—caught the eyes of photographers. At the request of a Union soldier’s mother, there was a photograph taken of his burial site. There is even the only known photograph of a Confederate army surrendering."

Presented in landscape format of roughly 8"x10" dimensions, the pages contain both images and detailed text. By figure numbers, there are 173 photographs in the book. Single photos frequently fill most of the page, and the accompanying captions range in size from a large paragraph to a couple pages of narrative. The text is fully annotated. I'm currently in cram mode for my year-end list, and this one definitely has my attention.


  1. Ooh, "photograph of soldiers engaged in battle"? Like, a picture taken during the fighting in an ACW battle? That sounds incredible.

    Are the pictures publicly available, or is this book the only way to see them?

    Isaac Dickman

    1. I'll take a closer look when I read the book. A large number of the photos, maybe the majority, are credited to the LoC archive. How many of those are part of the digitized collection I don't know.

  2. Drew:

    My copy arrived today and I just skimmed it. A remarkable work and set of photographs. Even my wife, who has no interest in my hobby (obsession?), stood over my shoulder, looked with curiosity, and did not move until I finished. Aside from being an essential aid to understanding the siege of Port Hudson, Hewitt deftly explores the art and history of Civil War photography. A landmark book.

    John Sinclairs

    1. John,
      It's next up on my list. It's always a treat looking at so many battlefield photos that I've never seen before. The author has some interesting insights on the difficulties of getting publishing permission without paying jaw-droppingly exorbitant fees from the rights holder, too.



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