Book Review by ACWRT (UK) member Keith Steiner
Author: William A. Frassanito
Publisher; Charles Scribner’s Sons New York: 1983: 442 pages: Illustrated.
There can be few in the American Civil War community unfamiliar with the work of William A. Frassanito. His work will likely grace many enthusiasts’ collections. The title of Frassanito’s 1983 publication Grant and Lee: The Virginia Campaigns 1864-65, as well as its pagination of over 400 pages is a clear signal that it is a work of serious intent.
Readers of Frassanito’s previous volumes on Antietam and Gettysburg will need no introduction to the narrative style and typical content of this publication. Frassanito is a photographic historian, a battlefield historian and a historian of the American Civil War. His method is steeped in meticulous research, depth of experience and enormous reverence for his subject.
In this book, photographs by James Gardner, Andrew J. Russell, Timothy O'Sullivan, T.C. Roche and the studio of Mathew Brady illustrate the featured period between May 1864 and April 1865. These historic photographs should be manna enough for the genuine enthusiast, but, characteristically, Frassanito pairs the historic images with his own photographs taken at the sites, from a near identical placement. His narrative is crisp and authoritative, and is a perfect and sober accompaniment to the photographs.
One of the satisfying aspects of this book is its allowance of space to include a close consideration of events that general studies exclude. One fine example is the consideration given to the Confederate attack during the concluding phase of the Battle of Spotsylvania at the Harris Farm and which features the extraordinary photography by Timothy O'Sullivan of Confederate casualties at the Susan Alsop Farm. Although these are images which tend to be selected in many modern references to the period by virtue of their starkness and clarity, it is rare for any reference to context and circumstance. Satisfyingly, Frassanito supplies this missing context, as also in such many other instances as the detailed photography of Confederate dead at Fort Mahone and Fort Sedgwick – both these sequences recorded at the conclusion of the Petersburg campaign.
William A. Frassantio has a mighty eye and his work is an invaluable source for students and enthusiasts of the period. I would further venture that the American Civil War community owes him a sincere debt of gratitude. The civil war photography of this volume is of an extraordinary intimacy and I cannot imagine anyone seeking insight into this period being anything but thoroughly rewarded by this wonderful book.