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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Adding Value to Your Civil War Battle/Campaign History, Final Postscript

           One more way has occurred to me to make it easier to attain the standard of research set by Dr. Sommers, though on a smaller scale  This way does not involve the history of a battle or a campaign.  What I mean is, write a unit history.  Focusing on a single unit reduces the amount of material you must master.  As a general rule, the bigger the unit, the more the material one must master.   On the other hand, some units generated more material than others—a lot more.  A particularly literate infantry regiment might have penned more diaries, letters and memoirs than relatively less literate brigades.  Some units authored so little as not to afford worthwhile subjects for a unit history.  I currently have a manuscript at SavasBeatie on the 12th Regiment Virginia Infantry, in which a couple of my wife’s ancestors served.  The 12th Virginia’s soldiers generated volumes of material.  Two future governors of the Old Dominion served in the 12th.  At least four volumes were published by the 12th’s soldiers, and other volumes remain in manuscript.  When I chose a unit to write about, also I considered the 12th Regiment Mississippi Infantry, in which another of my wife’s ancestors served.  Very few letters, diaries or memoirs existed from that regiment.  There were individual writers from the 12th Virginia who have left more surviving material than the entire 12th Mississippi.  I also considered the 29th United States Colored Troops, an infantry regiment raised in Illinois.   Practically no literature survives from that regiment.  One could probably write an interesting article about how African Americans were recruited in a state that banned free blacks, practiced de facto slavery (calling it indentured servitude), and had almost declared itself a slave state (in 1829), but without the particulars afforded by diaries, letters and memoirs, it would be a pretty dry and indeed speculative tome. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015


               There is another way to add value to your Civil War battle/campaign history that I have not yet mentioned because I did not employ it in my book.  It would be to restrict the subject to the point where you could research it exhaustively.  For example, it would have been possible to write a book about Second Deep Bottom, or Globe Tavern, or Second Reams Station alone.  It would have been possible to focus even more narrowly and write about the action of August 14, 1864, or August 16, 1864, or even August 18, 1864, at Second Deep Bottom; the action of August 18, 1864, or August 19, 1864, or August 21, 1864, at Globe Tavern; or the fight by moonlight of August 23, 1864.  David Faris Cross employed this tactic when he wrote A Melancholy Affair at the Weldon Railroad: The Vermont Brigade, June 23, 1864.  Dr. Cross did an in-depth study of the background to, events of, and aftermath of the Vermont Brigade’s fight near Globe Tavern on June 23, 1864.  Author A. Wilson Greene, then of Pamplin Historical Park, called Dr. Cross’s book “among the ten best books ever written about the Petersburg Campaign.”

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Adding Value to Your Civil War Battle/Campaign History: Part V, Crunch Those Numbers!

     Finally, to add value to the revised edition of my book, I tried crunching numbers and doing a statistical analysis of the fighting.  This also drew on my previous readings in military history over the years.  Reasonably reliable figures were available for numbers and losses on the Union side.  Figuring out Confederate numbers and losses ordinarily requires more work.   Once I had the numbers, I drew generally upon the work of Beninger, Hattaway, Jones and Still in Why The South Lost The Civil War and Dupuy in The Evolution of Weapons and Warfare.  The model I employed came from Dupuy's A Genius for War: The German Army and General Staff, 1807-1945.  The results put Grant's modest achievement in his Fourth Offensive at Petersburg in a very positive light.  To have made any progress against the Confederates with his relatively inferior troops despite his three to two numerical superiority testifies to Grant's talent and skill as a commander.