While other kids in his Middlesex, N.J., neighborhood were collecting baseball cards, 14-year-old Ron Coddington was browsing flea markets looking for old photographs. Little did he realize after he purchased his first photo in 1977 that collecting historic images would become a lifelong pursuit. He originally collected various formats of vernacular photography dating from the 1840s to the 1890s. Over time, he focused his collection on Civil War era cartes de visite, a paper format popular during the 1860s.
From 2001-2016, he authored Faces of War, a regular column in the Civil War News. Each month, Ron profiled a soldier, and each was illustrated with an original, wartime carte de visite photograph. His subjects were enlisted men and non-commissioned officers, and officers below the rank of colonel. Ron believes that appreciating the role of the volunteer soldier is key to understanding America’s greatest conflict. He writes, “The history of the Civil War is the stories of its soldiers and sailors.”
In 2004, a collection of columns became part of Ron’s first book, Faces of the Civil War: An Album of Union Soldiers and Their Stories. A companion volume, Faces of the Confederacy: An Album of Southern Soldiers and Their Stories, followed in 2008. Four years later, the publication of African American Faces of War: An Album marked the third book in the series. A fourth volume, Faces of the Civil War Navies: An Album of Union and Confederate Sailors, was released in 2016, and, in 2020, his fifth and final volume in the series, Faces of Civil War Nurses. All are published by The Johns Hopkins University Press. All the books are available for order through the publisher and other booksellers. Signed copies are also available for purchase.
His sixth book, Gettysburg Faces: Portraits and Personal Accounts (Gettysburg Publishing, 2022) is a collection of 100 original, rarely seen photographs of identified Union and Confederate soldiers and other participants in the Gettysburg Campaign, each accompanied by vivid accounts of their personal experiences based on letters, journals, newspaper reports, regimental histories and other documents. Signed copies are available for purchase.
Ron also wrote for the New York Times Disunion series from 2011-2014. His contributions documented the experiences of the enlisted men and line officers who participated in the Civil War.
In 2013, he became editor and publisher of Military Images, a quarterly magazine dedicated to showcasing, interpreting and preserving early American photographs of soldiers and sailors.
Ron has participated as a speaker at numerous Civil War-related events, and at meetings for round tables and other organizations.
- Related podcast, Constant Wonder hosted by Marcus Smith: A Passion for the Past.
- Related post on the JHU Press Blog: The origin of my passion for old photos.
- Related picks: The best books about life during the American Civil War by those who experienced it on Shepherd.