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Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Georgia in the Civil War.

Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Georgia in the Civil War. By Anne J. Bailey and Walter J. Fraser Jr. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1996. Pp. xiii, 410. $70.)

When the soldiers and civilians of Georgia sat before the camera's eye during the Civil War, they left behind a vast photographic legacy almost entirely untapped by historians. Indeed, until recently little attempt has been made to tell the story of the state during that turbulent period through photographs. Typically, photographs have served only to support the text of the many books written about Civil War Georgia and have not been the focus in and of themselves. Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Georgia in the Civil War reverses this trend by placing the photographs at center stage, and in doing so offers an intriguing and rarely opened window on Georgia's past.

This work is one of several in the Portraits of Conflict series published by the University of Arkansas Press. Others include photographic histories of North and South Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, with additional states in production. In terms of the variety and quality of the photographs, however, the Georgia volume is probably the best of the series.

Portraits of Conflict: Georgia is not just a military study. The photographs--260 to be precise--cover a wide range of subjects: women and families, factories and towns, camp scenes, architecture, landscapes, fortifications, military prisons, ships, slaves, and of course, soldiers and sailors, both black and white, Union and Confederate. The accompanying text provides a fast-paced narrative that identifies each image and places it in context with events.

What is truly haunting about this beautifully illustrated and impressively researched book are the faces of so many Georgians, both great and humble, that stare back at the reader with a grimness that belies the youthfulness of a generation destroyed by war. Especially poignant is the portrait of nineteen-year-old Sgt. Joe Hill, photographed with his little sisters before being killed by a shell at Fredricksburg, as well as that of the three young Madison Countians, two of whom perished side by side at Malvern Hill. Other photographs relate a tale of resistance, like the collage of young LaGrange women who organized the "Nancy Harts," a female military unit which marched out to face the advancing Union army. Resistance is also reflected in the photographs of Hubbard Pryor, an escaped Polk County slave, who is seen clothed in the rags of slavery in one shot and in the next dressed in his new Union army uniform, a musket defiantly cradled in his arms.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the work is the abundance of photographs from sources outside the major repositories. Bailey and Fraser thoroughly mined the state of Georgia in their quest for images. Although the Georgia Historical Society, university libraries, and the Georgia Department of Archives and History are represented, most of the images were gleaned from smaller collections such as the Athens Public Library, Crawford W. Long Museum, Troup County Archives, and the Thomas County Historical Society, not to mention a host of individual contributors. Use of these repositories points out the richness of county and local historical society collections usually overlooked by professional historians, including many of the authors in the Portraits of Conflict series.

Professors Bailey and Fraser have made a major contribution by presenting the first comprehensive photographic examination of the Civil War in Georgia-and they have done it in a way that is both informative and pleasurable to read. Whether of a rawboned Emanuel County dirt farmer, a young Troup County widow, a black servant clad in Confederate gray, or of a landscape blasted by the shock of battle, these images relate the tragic story of a people at war in a way more powerful than mere words.
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Author:Groce, W. Todd
Publication:Civil War History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1998
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