Beginning in 1990 and continuing for the next two decades, the University of Arkansas Press published a series of photographic histories of the Civil War. The volumes were developed by state, using states where a considerable portion of the war was fought. The university press included volumes on Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia.
Each volume is structured the same: an overall introduction to what happened to the state and its people during the war, followed by chapters on specific battles, armies, or state events. The emphasis is on the photographs, with each making extensive use of individual portraits of generals and other officers as well as enlisted men.
Each chapter begins with a narrative, and the photographs follow. An explanatory text accompanies each portrait, explaining who the person was, where they served, what battle or battles they fought, and whether they lived, survived with injuries, or died.
The volume on Mississippi is entitled Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Mississippi in the Civil War. It was the third volume in the series, published in 1993. It’s a hefty volume, not quite as lavish as a coffee table book but leaning in that direction. It was written by two men. Bobby Roberts was then the director of the Central Arkansas Library System and director of the Archives at the University of Arkansas. Carl Moneyhon was a professor of history at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Moneyhon’s books include Republicanism in Reconstruction Texas, A Documentary History of Arkansas (co-author), and The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on Arkansas.
The book is now almost 30 years old. The text is relatively up to date, which is not a surprise given how it focuses on major events and battles and well-known historical military figures. A considerable amount of information exists from which to choose; the state experienced some 17 battles, nine of which were connected to the Vicksburg campaign. The chapters in the book focus on Civil War photography in the state, Mississippi goes to war, Mississippians in the Amery of Northern Virginia and the western armies, the struggle for northeast Mississippi, Vicksburg, the home front (which often turned out to be closed to the front than home), Meridian and the battles in northern Mississippi, and after the war. Photographs of both Union and Confederate soldiers are included.
The pictures were provided by a number of individuals and national and state agencies and organizations, including the Military History Institute, Mississippi’s State Archives, the Special Collections at Louisiana State University Library, and other sources.
It’s the portraits of the soldiers, Union and confederate, that make the volume. So many of the were young, in the late teens and early 20s. Some look more like boys in uniforms than soldiers. Some have almost haunted looks about them. But these were the soldiers who fought on both sides; the texts include whether they died or experienced amputation of an arm or leg. One notes that the man, recently promoted and on furlough to visit his family in northern Mississippi, was ambushed and murdered by bushwhackers and/or deserters. Civil order had largely collapsed across the state.
It’s a big book with a large topic, but the photographs help bring home the reality of what the war was like for the men who participated in it.
Top photograph: Members of the 9th Mississippi Infantry at Pensacola, Florida, early in the war. Photograph by J.D. Edwards of New Orleans.