Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Unit Histories, and other favorites, part 2

More excerpted replies from the 1995 Civil War Regiments journal survey.

John Hennessy
Rebel Yell and Yankee Hurrah: The Civil War Journal of a Maine Volunteer (Camden, 1985), edited by Ruth L. Silliker—"consisting of the wartime jottings of Pvt. John Haley of the 17th Maine Infantry." Many of the journals or letter collections being published today, Hennessy asserts correctly, "are marginally useful to historians and numbing to the average reader. . . . But John Haley's Journal is different. It is beyond refreshing; it's genuinely delightful and highly useful—in many respects on a par with such classics as Wainwright's Diary of Battle and Lyman's Meade's Headquarters." Some of the witty quotes by Haley, related in Hennessy's submission, include these priceless observations of certain officers:

  • On Burnside: No man I've ever seen has such a head as Burnside.
  • On Dan Sickles: a gamey looking bird, and a fine specimen of majestic indifference.
  • On the death of division commander Amiel Whipple at Chancellorsville: How any bullet ever pierced General Whipple's armor of dirt is a mystery of mysteries. I considered him perfectly safe from any missile weighing less than a ton. . . .
  • On division commander David B. Birney: he was as expressionless as Dutch Cheese, and could serve as a bust for his own tomb.
  • On Third Corps commander William French ("Old Blinkey"): He is so repulsive in appearance as to invite nausea at the sight of his bloated and discolored visage. He looks a perfect old soaker, a devotee of lust and appetite. One eye has a habit of blinking, which makes it seem drunker than the rest of him.

Maxine Turner
Memoirs of Service Afloat (Baltimore, 1869), by Raphael Semmes. Says Turner, "this book is like a Victorian novel—massive, leisurely, and to those who do not choose that genre, no doubt interminable. That is not to say that the book is not filled with tales of sea chases and captures or of details of the design, construction, and operation of the Alabama." In keeping with the Victorian analogy, Turner writes, "the cast of characters among Alabama's captives is positively Dickensian, especially the captains sailing under false colors who are unmistakably natives of places like Nantucket and Providence. Outmoded and biased though the book may be, it is still a good read for someone content to settle down with a tome that ain't over 'til it's over.'

Glenn LaFantasie
A Stillness at Appomattox, by Bruce Catton. The 1954 Pulitzer Prize-winner is "a brilliant, evocative book that not only tells the story of the last days of the war in Virginia, but paints a startling picture—in various shades of grays and browns and reds—of what life was like in the Army of the Potomac during the months leading up to victory.

John F. Marszalek
Embattled Courage, The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War (New York, 1987), by Gerald F. Linderman. After reviewing this book for a journal, Marszalek was so impressed he assigned it as required reading in his Civil War and Reconstruction course at Mississippi State. "The strength of Linderman's book," Marszalek writes, "is that it allows the reader to get into the mind and spirit of the common Civil War soldier and begin to understand why he was able to fight as he did." Linderman's book is, he concludes, "an example of masterful research and an engaging writing style."

Archie P. McDonald
McDonald first thought of Hood's Texas Brigade, by Col. Harold Simpson, plus the three supporting volumes—"it's difficult to imagine anyone doing a more thorough study or getting more data before the public about any unit in any nineteenth century war." But for our purposes, he settled on The Third Texas Cavalry (Norman, 1993), by Douglas Hale, because, among other reasons, Hale's "book could be used as a prototype of how this kind of thing should be done." Hale, McDonald tells us, "researched in all the right places," including 24 county courthouses.

Alan T. Nolan
The Twentieth Maine, a Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War, by John Pullen. Says Pullen, "He [Chamberlain], William Oates, Ellis Speer, and others provided Pullen with unusually rich primary source materials and eyewitness accounts."

William Marvel
Marvel, who I see had articles in two recent magazines, distinguishes between more recent secondary works of original research, and works written by individual veterans, committees of veterans, or writers enlisted by veterans. In the first category, he does not hesitate to declare The Twentieth Maine, a Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War, by John Pullen, as "the premier example." In the second category, he was "most impressed" with John D. Billings, The History of the Tenth Massachusetts Battery of Light Artillery (Boston, 1881), who also wrote the much-loved Hardtack and Coffee. Like the 20th Maine, Marvel writes, the 10th MA Battery, first saw action later in the war, and "because of that late start the veterans were able to observe their surroundings more philosophically, leaving them with a different viewpoint than those who were thrown early and often into the front lines."

T. Michael Parrish
The Campaigns of Walker's Texas Division (Austin, 1994), by Joseph P. Blessington. "The most powerful value of Blessington's narrative stems from the vivid information included directly from the diary he kept throughout the war, along with supporting testimony he later obtained from former comrades. Although the diary itself is now lost, its singularity can be recognized from the many passages in the book wherein Blessington obviously quotes from his daily entries, producing an immediacy and veracity too often missing from so many postwar reminiscences."

Harry Pfanz
Mr. Pfanz deems a useful unit history to be one compiled by one of its members, one that deals almost exclusively with the unit at hand "in a reasonably full and intimate way, describing what and how things were done." Meeting those standards, he names Nathan Appleton's, History of the Fifth Massachusetts Battery, Marvin A. Haynes's, A History of the Second Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, William R. Kiefer's, History of the One Hundred Fifty-third Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, and George K. Collins's, Memoirs of the 149th [New York] Regiment (Syracuse, 1891). Pfanz's essay concentrates on the attributes of this last title, about which he writes, Collins avoided "flowery phraseology and ventures into the 'big picture' that often burden unit histories without adding to their usefulness. He has provided posterity with a valuable glimpse of a segment of the Civil War as it must have been."

Brian C. Pohanka
Pohanka names three titles, the first of which he purchased when he was 12-years-old: Charles H. Weygant's 1877 History of the One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Regiment, N.Y.S.V.,—the "Orange Blossoms," the author of which "witnessed the gallantry and horror of Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, and Petersburg." Another favorite named by Pohanka was The Story of Our Regiment, A History of the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteers (reprinted, Butternut & Blue, 1994), edited by former adjutant J. W. Muffly, heavily illustrated and heavy to hold at 1,096 pages. Lastly, Brian listed Alfred Davenport's 1879 work, Camp and Field Life of the Fifth New York. Somehow we knew that Duryee's Zouaves would come up.

James I. Robertson
History of the Twelfth Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion (Concord, NH 1897), a regiment that possessed a "good soldier-historian." Bartlett canvassed his compatriots for surviving letters and diaries, and included biographical sketches and dozens of individual pen portraits of regimental members. All this and more, Robertson says, "complete a work that will always serve as a model for a unit history as all-inclusive as it is wonderfully human."

Wiley Sword
A History of the 73rd Illinois -- "the Preacher Regiment" -- composed by a committee of three. Over 100 of the book's 682 pages deal with the actions from Spring Hill to Nashville. Sword writes, "anyone seeking a candid 'inside story' of the Hood Tennessee Campaign is well advised to find a copy and enjoy some of the best raw data to be found in any post-war era regimental history."

Jeffry D. Wert
James J. Williamson's, Mosby's Rangers, the best, Wert says, of the works written by members of the command. Published in 1895, revised in 1909, "Mosby's Rangers follows the format of a journal, but is neither repetitive or dull." Wert compliments Williamson on his accuracy. "Minor mistakes of fact and memory lapses intrude, but the book holds up well under the scrutiny of modern scholarship." Here you'll also find the largest group of photos of individual Rangers in any published account.

John T. Hubbell
The long-time editor of Kent State's Civil War History journal chose to highlight B. H. Liddell Hart's Sherman: Soldier Realist, which he read as a doctoral student at the University of Illinois. "Hart is a superior biographer because he develops Sherman's personal traits clearly and persuasively and with an elegance of language seldom matched. . . . Academic historians would profit as well from a careful reading of Hart's comments on research and annotation."

William J. Miller
Theo F. Rodenbough's, From Everglades to Canon With the Second Dragoons (New York, 1875). Of Rodenbough's works, Miller writes, "Perhaps we cannot see, touch or smell the past, but in the hands of a talented and knowledgeable narrator, we can very definitely feel it." In 1861, the Second Dragoons became the Second U.S. Cavalry, not to be confused, Miller says, with the more famous Second Cavalry (of Johnston, Lee, Thomas, et. al. fame), which became the Fifth U.S. Cavalry in 1861, which overshadowed the exploits of her sister regiment. "The sections dealing with the Civil War are not the strongest part of the book, but the big war was not necessarily the period most remembered by the survivors. . . .For those of us who love biography, military history, or who feel some admiration for those self-reliant souls who set off across prairie or desert with not much more than a horse and a revolver, this is a memorable book."

David Woodbury
The Confederate Cherokees: John Drew's Regiment of Mounted Rifles (Baton Rouge, 1989), by W. Craig Gaines. It treats subjects outside the main theaters of war, and indeed, outside the mainstream societies in the warring sections -- the tragic story of a war within a war. "Drew's regiment was not one of Fox's 'Fighting 300.' Indeed, they did not even complete their one-year term of service. The are remembered chiefly for having taken Federal scalps at Pea Ridge, and hold the distinction of being the only Confederate regiment to desert almost entirely to the Federal side. Thus, what begins as the story of Drew's Mounted Rifles effectively ends as the story of the 3rd Kansas Indian Home Guard Regiment." It likewise has one of the most colorful of all regimental rosters, with names like "Second Lt. Crab Grass Smith and Sgt. Bat Puppy of Company K, Pt. Dreadful Water of Co. H, Moses Dog in the Bush of Co. B, and Co. I's Young Squirrel Flopper. Dozens of other soldiers' names were recorded without translation, as one member of Co. B, Private Pa sooz or kie Cah lor nu hay skie."

Albert Castel
James Taylor Holmes's, Fifty-Second Ohio Volunteer Infantry: Then and Now (Columbus, 1898). "It is a very rare, hard to find title, but unusual and exceptionally good book, both in content and literary quality." It is more a personal memoir than a regimental history, Castel writes, consisting of "excerpts from Holmes's diary and letters written during the war, of his memoirs based on those documents, and finally on an account of a visit he made in the 1890s to the battlefields where he fought during the Atlanta Campaign." Castel found it extremely useful when writing his Decision in the West.

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