Born in the rural South, Donald A. Hopkins has maintained a fascination with Southern history and military history since he was a child. He served in the Vietnam War as battalion surgeon with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, "The Walking Dead" and was awarded the Purple Heart medal and Bronze Star with "V" for valor. In addition to published papers in the medical field, he has written several Civil War articles and three books including The Little Jeff: A History of the Jeff Davis Legion, Cavalry, Army of Northern Virginia for which he received the United Daughters of the Confederacy's Jefferson Davis Historical Gold Medal. His extensive Civil War collection contains several original photographs of Robert E. Lee. Dr. Hopkins is a surgeon in Gulfport, Mississippi, where he lives with his wife Cindy and their golden retriever Dixie.
Few will argue with the idea that George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee are the most recognizable historic American faces. I have read that Lee is the most common image in Civil War art. He is truly an icon, instantly recognized and respected. This book accepts this being subtitled "The Photographic History of a Confederate and American Icon".
For many people the question will be, "Am I a big enough Lee fan to buy this book?" Many will quickly answer "No" and look at something else. You will miss an interesting varied book that is much more than a history of Lee's photos. Yes, all of the photographs of Robert E. Lee are catalogued and written about just as promised.
What is not mentioned is an understandable somewhat technical discussion of photography from the 1830s to 1870s. This is coupled with a peek at how the business worked. Additionally, this says nothing about the social aspects of how a well to do family recorded their images. The author manages to balance the technical, business and social showing how advancements in photography interacted with society. The result is a book that covers the business life of a photographer and societies wish to be photographed. Donald Hopkins could easily have written a cure for insomnia. He avoids that with a lively style that includes the right amount of information for the reader, as they need it. This careful pace keeps our interest ensuring we never bog down.
We follow Lee in photos from Matthew Brady's 1845 daguerreotype to 1870 pictures for his sculpture. Each photo is discussed, where taken, the probable date, photographer and variations done after the fact. With photos on every page, you never are in doubt as to which photo we are talking about. Some of these pictures have a real "history" that involves family, friends and photographers in disputes.
Dr. Hopkins' account of all the known photographs of Robert E. Lee, including information about their sources, is comprehensive. It supplements extremely well the numerous biographical studies of Lee. The author has produced an evident labor of love similar in scope to Lloyd Ostendorf's Lincoln's Photographs: A Complete Album (1998) and D. Mark Katz's Custer in Photographs (1985). The quality achieved by the publisher in the manufacture of this book is fitting for a work that is a permanent contribution to Civil War scholarship.
Q. Why did you decide to write your book about Robert E. Lee?
DAH: I have had a lifelong interest in Southern history, the American Civil War, and historical research in general. Naturally, I began to accumulate related artifacts, documents, and photographs of the period for my own collection. As years went by I began to buy and sell such items at collector's shows and antique shops. Two facts began to stand out:
1. The "go to" source, or bible if you will, relating to photographs of Robert E. Lee is a well-known book first published in 1947. If I wanted to know who made a photograph of Lee or when it was made, I was directed to check it out in Roy Meredith's, The Face of Robert E. Lee in Life and Legend.
2. When I began seriously studying Lee photographs, I noted that many inaccuracies and omissions of this book have simply been carried forward by later authors without the benefit of more research. Therefore, many of the period photographs found on the tables at shows and in the showcases of well-known dealers were improperly described with respect to date and photographer.
It appeared to me that an updated reference on photographs of Robert E. Lee would be timely, as well as an interesting research project.
Q. What makes Robert E. Lee in War and Peace unique from other books on the same topic?
DAH: It is a more complete atlas of Robert E. Lee photographs than any other. All currently known life images of the General are presented, many more than in any other volume. Also, for the first time, a book on Lee photographs discusses in some detail the photographic techniques used.Read more ›
The spine of the book is a particularistic study of every known photo (61 total) of RE Lee. Whatever your feelings about the man, he was important enough to rate this kind of catalog. But along the way - and more to my personal interest - this is also a history of early photography, and helps illuminate the Civil War-era United States.