Picks and Pans Review: The Confederate Image

updated 03/14/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/14/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Mark E. Neely Jr., Harold Holzer and Gabor S. Boritt

The lithographs, engravings and photographs that are the core of this engrossing book about Southerners during the Civil War era retain a curiously vivid quality, perhaps because the passions and pain the war itself generated have still not totally dissipated. The authors, experts in various aspects of Civil War history, are all Northerners, but they have nonetheless compiled a book that is generally most sympathetic to the Confederacy. Their text is substantial, giving them ample chance to explore the background of such prints as The Burial of Latane, which shows a group of black slaves and white women burying a Confederate cavalry officer, and various demeaning cartoons that depict Jefferson Davis trying to escape the Union Army at the end of the war dressed as a woman. (The authors cite Davis' own explanation of the incident, in which he said he had mistakenly picked up his wife Varina's raincoat as he was fleeing, and then she threw a shawl over his head and shoulders to protect him from the morning chill.) There are numerous depictions of Robert E. Lee, rarely looking like anything less than a straight-from-central-casting hero, full of unrelenting nobility and sagacity. Perhaps more enlightening are such chapters as the one on Stonewall Jackson, in which the authors note that John Greenleaf Whittier, in his poem Barbara Frietchie, wasn't only out to glorify the heroine who hung the Stars and Stripes from her Frederick, Md., home as Jackson's rebel troops marched by. There were the lines, " 'Shoot, if you must, this old gray head/ But spare your country's flag,' she said." But Whittier also seemed to be saluting Jackson, whom the poet has saying, "Who touches a hair of yon gray head/ Dies like a dog! March on!" Then there are such touching works as an 1871 Currier and Ives lithograph, The Lost Cause, which shows a Confederate veteran returning to his modest homestead after the war to find two graves, presumably those of his wife and child. A selection of 50 prints taken from the book will be on display at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Va., April 22-Sept. 5 as part of a traveling exhibition that will include the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, the Mississippi State Historical Museum in Jackson, the Newberry Library in Chicago and the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta. (University of North Carolina, $32.50; $14.95 paper)

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