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Saturday, August 22, 2015

More Value for Your History

Recently I've undertaken a study of "The Petersburg Affair" of June 22, 1864, where three brigades of Mahone's division routed three divisions of the Federal II Corps.  What inspired me to begin such a narrow study?  Destroy the Junction by Greg Eanes and A Melancholy Affair on the Weldon Railroad by David Cross, two humble, narrowly focused histories, the Eanes book on the Wilson-Kautz Raid of June 22-July 1, 1864, and the Cross book on the bite taken out of the Vermont Brigade of VI Corps by Mahone's Division on June 23, 1864.  I found both these books delightful and I wanted to emulate them. 
As I studied "The Petersburg Affair," I found many though not all the histories of the units involved on the internet and at great websites such as Brett Schulte's  Dornbusch's fine bibliography of Civil War histories is online at
A wonderful, thought-provoking book is Fox's Numbers and Losses in the American Civil War, also online at;view=1up;seq=20.  This book is a treasure trove of information.  It sets forth the Union formations with the highest numerical and percentage losses in terms of killed and wounded.  The Three Hundred Fighting Regiments of the United States Army are described in this book, the criteria for selection being either 130 killed in action or mortally wounded or more than ten percent killed or dead of wounds.  The forty-five Union infantry regiments with more than 200 killed or mortally wounded also have a chart.
I learned from Fox's book that the Richardson-Hancock-Caldwell-Barlow-Miles division endured more casualties than any other division in the Union army.  Ibid., 115-116.  Eighteen of its twenty-five regiments belonged to Fox’s Three Hundred Fighting Regiments of the United States Army.  Ibid., 122-424.  II Corps, which included that division as well as the former III Corps, had forty-eight of the U. S. Army’s 190 regiments that Fox identified with more than ten percent of their enrollments killed or dead of wounds.  Ibid., 10-14.  II Corps had seventeen of the forty-five regiments Fox identified that had lost 200 or more killed or mortally wounded.  Ibid., 3.  II Corps had nine of the twenty-three Union regiments with the highest percentage killed in action or dead of wounds.  Ibid., 8.  It had among its ninety-two regiments (some consolidated into others) seventy-two of the Three Hundred Fighting Regiments of the United States Army, and that did not include three more transferred or mustered out before the beginning of the Campaign of 1864.  Ibid., 122-424.  This extraordinary corps thus contained at one time a full quarter of the Three Hundred Fighting Regiments of the United States Army in the Civil War.
My increased respect for II Corps in turn magnified my respect for Mahone's Division, which often whipped II Corps during the 1864 and 1865 campaigns (yes, they were two campaigns, not one--but that's another blog post!)  My history of the 12th Virginia Infantry awaits publication at SavasBeatie.  Fox has helped me rate this regiment as a fighting unit.  Given that its own members styled it a "Saratoga trunk regiment" and "Kid Glove Boys" I did not expect much, and indeed its 10.4% casualties exceeded only by a little the "nearly" ten percent casualties suffered by the average Confederate unit according to Fox.  Ibid., 555.  (The average Union regiment lost five percent.  Ibid.)  But if the 12th Virginia had fought for the Union, it would have merited a place in the Three Hundred Fighting Regiments on both criteria, 159 killed or mortally wounded, and more than 10 percent killed or died of wounds.  Ibid., 122. 
The 12th Virginia, also known as the Petersburg Regiment, underwent its baptism of fire against the 5th New Hampshire at Seven Pines on June 1, 1862.  The 5th New Hampshire was the Union infantry regiment that suffered the most in killed and mortally wounded.  In their last battle together, Cumberland Church April 7, 1865, the 5th was trounced and lost its colors. 
I also follow the 39th Illinois the "Yates Phalanx"), which to my surprise also qualified as one of the Three Hundred Fighting Regiments.  (My law office is in Tinley Park, where the 39th's Company G, "The Preacher's Company," enlisted.)  I was surprised because even though the 39th participated in the March 1862 battle of Kernstown, the only battle Stonewall Jackson lost in the Shenandoah, as well as the 1863 Siege of Charleston, South Carolina, the 39th's men did not consider themselves to have been in a real battle until Second Drewry's Bluff on May 16, 1864.  Their moment of glory occurred at Second Deep Bottom, August 16, 1864, where their color bearer Pvt. Henry H. Hardenbergh (a Hoosier) earned a Medal of Honor by, after suffering a shoulder wound, capturing the banner of an Alabama regiment.
A look at Fox's book will give you a sense of the quality of troops you are writing about, as well as instant color.  The 40th New York was the "Mozart Regiment" and contained companies from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the 61st New York was the "Clinton Guard," the 52nd New York the "German Rangers," the 64th New York the "Cattaraugus Regiment," the 86th New York the "Steuben Rangers," the 124th New York the "Orange Blossoms," the 93rd New York the "Morgan Rifles," the Fourth Brigade of the Third Division, the "Escelsior Brigade," the 42nd New York or "Tammany Regiment," the Second Brigade of the Second Division the "Philadelphia Brigade" or "California Brigade," the Second Brigade of the First Division or "Irish Brigade,"  Let's give every great Union and Confederate unit its due--there were more than the Irish Brigade, Iron Brigade, Stonewall Brigade and Light Division.
So go for it!  Give your regiments their due.  Make your history more colorful.