Almost everyone who reads this blog has some interest in the American Civil War, even if it is only that a household member is a Civil War buff. With the holidays upon us, ECW will offer a short series of reviews featuring gift suggestions for the Civil Warrior in your life–or for you, in case you may have inadvertently been naughty at some point and are expecting only coal or a visit from Krampus.
Our first offering is from the Smithsonian: Michael Stephenson’s Civil War in 3D: The Life and Death of the Soldier. I pre-ordered this on line and waited quite a while for it to ship, but it is available now for $25.79. Although found at the Smithsonian website, it can be bought from amazon.com and is available for Prime shipping.
The kit is actually pretty cool. Its book-and-box format includes 35 stereoscopic photographs, a 176-page illustrated paperback book detailing the war from the perspective of the soldier culled from primary sources in the form of letters and diary entries, and a metal stereoscopic viewer. The viewer is much easier to use than antique stereopticons, which are sometimes fragile. It is a hand-held metal pair of spectacles attached to an adjustable holder for the cards included in the set. The viewer is sturdy and works very well, once one gets used to the short wait while eyes adjust and then present the 3-D images.
The focus (no pun intended, of course!) of the collection is the cards themselves. They are smaller than traditional stereo cards, being approximately 2″ x 5″ and visually split in the middle. The collection includes images of soldiers building winter quarters, views of encampments, burials, mundane chores such as mending and eating, and a few (very few) iconic images of the war itself. My favorites are the “Fightin’ for our rats” picture of the three captured Confederate prisoners of war at Gettysburg, and Alexander Gardner’s image of men guarding the graves at Antietam. The tree in the picture is practically leafless after the predations of battle.
The book that is included in this nifty little collection is worth the price of the whole shebang: The Civil War: The Life and Death of the Soldier. It is a Smithsonian compilation by historian and curator Michael Stevenson, and is wide in its scope, covering the war from 1861-1865 and focusing on the common experiences of the Civil War soldier. Uniforms, food, and relationships with the home front are followed by descriptions of being in battle, sustaining injury, and burying one’s comrades. Women, slaves, U. S. Colored Troops and volunteer organizations are all touched upon in this graphics-intensive, 174-page book. Of special delight are the end covers. Row after row of CDVs are printed and identified, with brief histories about the men inside the frames. Fascinating.
I am sure many will notice that this offering is Yankee-centric. It seems that the Confederacy simply did not offer the resources necessary to a project like this. Richmond could not boast photography studios of the stature of Mathew Brady’s, nor did the Confederacy provide for whatisit wagons, portable photography studios, to accompany their armies. Even the journalists who covered the southern fighting men did so mainly for European newspapers. When a project like this comes along 150 years later, well . . . who knew?
This is a wonderful gift choice for a Civil War buff or a younger student of the war. It is fun on the coffee table, nicely priced, and carefully annotated. The amazon Prime delivery means that it can get to you quickly–always an advantage, in my opinion.
I give it 4 1/2 Minié balls.