Picks and Pans Review: Touched by Fire

updated 04/07/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/07/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

edited by William C. Davis

Mathew Brady was not the only photographer taking pictures during the Civil War. This, the first in a projected two-volume set, includes nearly 500 photographs taken by various photographers on both sides of the conflict. Many of the negatives were in poor condition in the first place and have not reproduced well. The book is also marred by particularly inane captions: "Some of these Louisiana officers had a distinctly professorial look to them, yet the boys in the ranks came to love and respect them in time. They would follow them anywhere." "Seemingly on every deck in the hemisphere there were guns". "All across the continent they were marching." Nonetheless, the pictures of the men who fought the war, and the land they fought on, remain engrossing. Civil War photos often have a sterile quality because of the technical limitations of the era; there were, of course, no real combat pictures. But Davis, a prolific Civil War historian, includes a number of after-action shots, such as Alexander Gardner's photograph of the corpse-strewn scene at Little Round Top during the battle of Gettysburg, which add a sobering sense of the horror of the war. And there remain the appalling portraits of the young soldiers from both sides as they prepared to go to war. Many of them seem barely 13 or 14, and in a war in which more than 600,000 died, it is safe to assume that many of them never saw their homes again. (Little, Brown, $50)

From Our Partners