Cover Image: The Black Civil War Soldier

The Black Civil War Soldier

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Member Reviews

The history of The American Civil War is often clouded by heaps and piles of romanticism and revisionism that has made the discussion of the conflict troubling for a number of years. One step onto Facebook, especially at any politically charged moment in modern times, and you’ll see all manner of misinformation and even blatant trolling that kills any sort of educated discourse. I’ve even read books that go into these tangents, and ultimately they lose sight of their purpose pretty fast and turn into a political quagmire.

Luckily, this book is not like that – it’s straightforward and uses the historical documents to tell the story, it avoids editorialization, and conjecture a fact that is refreshing to me in it’s simplicity. It reminds me a lot of Ken Burns’ Civil War series from thirty years ago – it also used documents and quotes to tell the story, and the general public loved it for that. The more-specific topic at hand is – the history of Black Civil War Soldiers on both sides of the conflict – their motivations, their feelings, and their dreams – told in many instances in their own words through letters and interviews given at the time or soon after.

While not shocking, some of the accounts of how both sides treated black people for the duration of the war was jarring at times. Well, jarring in the sense that many treat that war as a “good guys” vs “bad guys” situation, when it largely was more nuanced than that. One account that was particularly sad to me was a point when Union soldiers had arrived in a southern town to be greeted as liberators by all the the slaves left alone by their conscripted slave masters. Military leaders had to basically say “we are not here to free slaves, but to put the Union back together slavery and all” – for many slaves that sunk into their heart like a stone and colored their opinion of the Federal Government from then on. The book is an equal opportunity expectation-flipper, as there are also accounts of Black soldiers on the south being treated fairly by the Confederates.

This book is amazing, and highly recommended. I’m sure there are similar books out there, but this one was a real page-turner especially to see the gorgeous photographs that have been preserved in it.
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This book is an interesting look into the lives of African-American soldiers who fought in the Civil War. Many of them escaped, in order to join the Union Army...for the mere thought of freedom. 

A good portion of the book is visual. The men were so proud to be in uniform, that they took plenty of pictures as proof (even though many were not allowed to have weapons).

What I loved about this book was the numerous letters that were exchanged between soldier and wife, army generals, etc. I never thought about those left behind...until now. I literally read all 241 pages in one night.

I highly recommend this 💎💎💎💎💎 book to lovers of historical fiction.
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A magnificent collection of images and portraits of black men and women who have been erased from American history. Brilliantly researched and curated by Deborah Willis, this should be taught in every classroom. To be read, digested and absorbed as nourishment for your mind and soul. These are the stories and images of a stolen people turned into property transformed into patriotic Americans with some returning as property; a gift from America for their sacrifices.
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Part of the NYU Series on Social & Cultural Analysis

This is one of those books that I knew I wanted to read just by seeing the cover. I admit that I was a little afraid at what graphic images it might contain, but I steeled myself and opened the cover.  Seeing as the subtitle I assumed it would filled with photos. There are a lot, around seventy I believe, but I somehow expected more. There are the standards that show up in any discussion of slavery, the South, the Civil War, and many other avenues (especially the one showing the crisscrossed scars on the back of “Whipped Peter”).

What I wasn’t prepared for was the large number of photographs of Black soldiers in uniform. At the time of the Civil War, “photography culture blossomed―marking the Civil War as the first conflict to be extensively documented through photographs.”  I couldn’t help but wonder how these men paid for their images to be reproduced. If it’s in this book, I missed it.

Another thing that I wasn’t prepared for was the way the book is put together. The text is mostly letters from the soldiers. Author “Willis not only dives into the lives of black Union soldiers, but also includes stories of other African Americans involved with the struggle―from left-behind family members to female spies. Willis thus compiles a captivating memoir of photographs and words and examines them together to address themes of love and longing; responsibility and fear; commitment and patriotism; and―most predominantly―African American resilience.” I did have trouble with the dialect, but that made it all the more real…it didn’t feel like a white woman was writing it.

Willis does an outstanding job in putting new faces to this age-old history. Therefore, The Black Civil War Soldier: A Visual History of Conflict and Citizenship receives 5 out of 5 stars in Julie’s world.
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This book is a real treasure 
History told through letters by the people that were there.  The black soldiers experiences during the Civil War from letters written to family, superior officers or newspapers detailing the happenings during the war.  It showed how proud these soldiers were of what they were doing; sadly they did not get the same monetary benefits as the white soldiers which left a lot of families struggle for survival.  It also brings to light the brutal treatment encountered by the wife and children of the man that escaped their owner to join the Union armies.  The letters of these individuals are followed by photos of the men in uniform which brings a bond between the letter, photo and reader.  Looking at their faces you see the person and it becomes more then reading a book on the Civil war.   I highly recommend this book for anybody interested in this period of American History.
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Deborah Willis has done an amazing job chronicling Black Civil War soldiers through imagery and showing why these images are important to helping tell their stories.  She's clear and concise in her writing, and she writes in a way that's interesting and easy to get caught up in.  I want to make it clear that the reason I'm not giving a full 5 stars on this isn't anything to do with Willis's work because if it were that, I would without a doubt.  My issue is with the galley itself.  

I don't know if I had a faulty galley or if I missed some kind of "disclaimer" saying that the photographs wouldn't be included in the galley, but the photographs weren't there.  Instead of the photographs, there were these large grey, blank squares/rectangles to show where the photographs were supposed to be.  It's difficult to review a book that centers the value of visual/photographic history when the photographs aren't provided.  The formatting of the galley was all over the place and made it extremely difficult to read, too.  I'm grateful for being approved to read this fantastic book, especially since my background is as a historic interpreter of slavery at a state historic site, but there were a lot of frustrations that came with the formatting and the lack of photographs.  If I were rating the actual galley, I would give it a 1 star review, but I love the actual book so much and thought Willis was just fantastic in her execution of the material that it deserves a 5 star rating.

Since I didn't get to actually view the book with the photographs, I'm looking forward to my next payday when I can purchase the book, see the photographs, and then give my full review on Goodreads and my linked social media.  I have absolutely no doubt I'll love it even more in its entirety.
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This is a thorough, moving, and well-researched account of Black soldiers fighting on both sides during American civil war. The amazing collection of photographs bring the letters, stories, and facts to life. I was particularly moved by the stories of enslaved Black soldiers fighting because they had no choice. The injustice of risking their lives and health for the cause of continuing to be enslaved is heartbreaking. 

This piece of history is crucial to understanding American slavery, the continuing racism we see today, and the resurgence of white supremacist violence and hatred, particularly in the American south. It should be included in schools as part of civil war history and the study of slavery and racism in America.
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Amazing photographs!  

For any secondary classroom, collector; really everyone!  These are stories that should be told and heard!  

Our world needs more books like this, especially for our children!!
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Engaging and informative, this historical war book is essential to understanding more than what the (usually incorrect, sugarcoated, and Eurocentric/Anglocentric) textbooks claim. Presented crisply with an easy flow layout and written in a non-dry manner that exhibits the research executed. Plenty of quotes and even more brilliant and awesome photos.
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The opportunity to read and review this pre-pub book was so appreciated. Unfortunately the Kindle ARC did not provide any of the images that will ultimately make this this work so compelling. 

The quality of the text of the ARC convinced me to purchase a hard copy, and I must say that the tone and the overall message of the book (even without images) makes this an ineluctable part of serious study of both the Civil War and the history of Black Americans as part of the tapestry of the United States.
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This is a solid book with a mix of letters from politicians, family members, and Black soldiers who fought for the Union in the Civil War. While most people believe that all photographs of Black soldiers from this time period are of the 54th, this book will show you the wide variety of images that survived of USCT (United States Colored Troops). The book is divided into logical sections based on time and bring in lots of different voices. Solid research!

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review, all opinions are my own.
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This wonderful book is a treasure trove for anyone interested in the Civil War and particularly Black regiments fighting for the Union army.  There are rare and compelling photos and daguerreotypes, and more than a few are accompanied by letters written by and about the men in the photos.  The soldiers depicted were from two regiments primarily; all the officers had to be white for the regiment to be approved for service.  One of these officers was Robert Gould Shaw who led the Massachusetts 54th which was the subject of the film "Glory".
I spent a lot of time looking closely at these faces and experiencing the timelessness of their images.  I hope this book will become a classic.
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The Black Civil War Soldier is a well researched and thoroughly annotated study of the black men who served (on both sides) in the American Civil War. Due out 21st Jan 2021 from the NYU Press, it's 240 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

The author, Dr. Deborah Willis, is a historian and film/ephemera researcher as well as a photographer in her own right. This book, while academically rigorous and prodigiously annotated throughout is refreshingly accessible to non-academics. The language is understandable and readable and most often, she allows the subjects to speak eloquently for themselves, through their photos and the ephemera (letters, diaries, family oral history, and archival evidence) they left behind.

I found myself often moved emotionally during reading this book and affected deeply by the plight of the young men and their families depicted here. There are epigraphs aplenty from luminaries (Frederick Douglass, Lincoln, Dr. Alexander T. Augusta, and many others who will be familiar to many readers), but it's the unknowns, lesser knowns, the family men, the wives and mothers whose histories are preserved here who affected me the most. I grew up in West Virginia and am intimately familiar with many of the cities and towns described.

Seeing the resilience and bravery and honor and mettle of the men here against the backdrop of the nauseating prejudiced mishandling by everyone *including their comrades at arms and commanding officers* was often difficult to read and process.

The chapters are laid out chronologically: 1860-61, 1861-62, 1863, 1864, and 1865-66. The text is liberally annotated and illustrated with line drawings, facsimiles of period documents, and an impressive number of photos. Although the treatment is admittedly academic, there's enough annotation and chapter notation and bibliography to satisfy the staunchest pedant - at the same time, there's a clear and compelling biographical narrative. I'm amazed that there's enough period record to reconstruct the stories of these families after more than 150 years.

Five stars. I would recommend this book to readers of American history, war history, American culture, classroom instruction in the Civil War period or allied subjects, ephemera, etc.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.
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i really enjoyed reading this book, it was a great look into the past especially a time that I don't know too much about. It was good to read about the soldiers that fought in the Civil War.
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Great book! Should be in every collection. There really haven't been too many books about Black soldiers in any U.S.conflicts. There were Afro-Am soldiers in the Revolutionary War, but only a couple are ever written about. I know they were in the Civil War, but most books on the subject baring mention them in passing. Kudos to Deborah Willis for bring them to light and giving them their due.
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A fascinating look at people living a century and a half ago under frightening circumstances. History comes to life as we look at these people and realize they're not so different from us, and that we are only separated by the circumstances and timing of our births. Admittedly, I did not read every single page, but as a skipped through chapters, reading, I was captivated. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading history.
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They say a picture is worth a thousand words and this book demonstrates this to be true.  There is enough text to give context and to lend analysis to what the photographs represent but the true appeal of this book has to be the incredible photographs.  They open the reader’s eyes to a previously little acknowledged aspect of the Civil War and do so in a way which expresses great respect and pride.  An important book, this is an approach which could add value to coverage of other important historical events.  Very clever indeed.
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