A New Interest: Unit Histories

by Brett Schulte on December 31, 2005 · 4 comments

My intense interest in the Siege of Petersburg has spawned
a tangential interest in unit histories, with an emphasis on regimental
histories. As I go about compiling my Siege of Petersburg
Orders of Battle
, I have already found the few unit histories I have
in my possession (mostly H.E. Howard books on Virginia units) to be extremely
helpful in answering some questions as to brigade commanders, units in a
brigade, promotions, transfers, etc. Eric Wittenberg recently did a
blog entry on regimental histories
at Rantings
of a Civil War Historian
. Eric gives his take on regimentals both from
a “need” and a “want” point of view. I’d like to especially point out Ward
House Books
, a division of Higginson
. These guys specialize in those hard-to-find, out of print regimentals
produced soon after the Civil War. They are a print on demand company, and
they only do high-quality hardbacks. As such, they can be pretty expensive.
However, when you consider that many of these books are out of print and
go on the secondary market for hundreds of dollars even in bad condition,
Ward House starts looking like a bargain. Taking all of this into account,
I started threads at Eric’s Civil
War Discussion Group
and the Netscape/Compuserve
Civil War Forum
run by David Woodbury, formerly of Savas-Woodbury Publishing.
My initial post reads as follows:

Okay, I’ve decided to take the plunge into unit (especially regimental)
histories. I have several of the H.E. Howard books on Virginia artillery
batteries, and one on a Virginia regiment. Also, I’ve got a book on
the Orphan Brigade. That is the extent of the unit histories in my collection
currently. I’m looking to move in this direction slowly but surely.

Can anyone recommend the best unit histories they’ve read,
especially those involving units that participated in the Siege of Petersburg

or in the Valley Campaign of 1864?

I probably won’t be able to afford books long out of print, so I’m
looking more for books readily available today. I usually prefer hardback
books, but I’m not as concerned with this when it comes to unit histories.

Additionally, can anyone point me to web pages that contain
long out of print regimental and unit histories whose copyrights have
run out?

I know there are probably a bunch out there, and I’ll be using Google
to try to find them, but any initial help to get off the ground would
be greatly appreciated.

I received numerous responses, and I encourage readers interested in
Civil War unit histories to check those threads out. The people who responded
were very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. I believe those two forums to
be the top two Civil War forums/message boards going today. I’ve learned
a lot in both places. Some of the people who frequent those boards have
forgotten more about the Civil War than I’ll ever know! Ahem, back on
topic. I just so happened to have some extra cash laying around from my
side job as the webmaster for my small Illinois village. As a result of
the numerous recommendations on these forums, I decided to create a list
of unit histories to purchase to start off my collection. Considering
that there are probably thousand of unit histories of various shapes and
sizes out there, this is the beginning of what I hope becomes a fairly
sizeable collection. My goal is to collect as many unit histories of troops
who participated in the Siege of Petersburg as possible. I’m not necessarily
ruling out others, as evidenced by my purchase on eBay several days ago
of two Illinois regiments, the 9th and Black Jack Logan’s Thirty-First,
but Petersburg will be my focus. Here are the guidelines I used when deciding
which books to buy:

1. The book needed to be reasonably cheap. I’m still in my mid-20’s and
I’m purchasing my first home this year, so money doesn’t exactly grow
on trees in the Schulte household these days.

2. The unit needed to have participated in the Siege of Petersburg. I’ve
hopefully explained this one above.

3. I did not want to duplicate regiments from the same brigade or brigades
from the same division initially. I’d like to achieve a balanced representation
of units over my first few rounds of book buying.

4. I wanted to get at least a decent representation of both sides, although
as you’ll see I ended up a bit Yankee-centric in this initial go round.

With these criteria in mind, here is my list, linked to Amazon and including
my thoughts and other’s thoughts on these books:

A Scythe of Fire: A Civil War Story of the
Eighth Georgia Infantry Regiment

by Steven E. Woodworth

Apparently Warren Wilkinson was a master when it came
to writing a good regimental history. He was working on this book at
the time of his death, and Steven Woodworth came to the rescue and finished
it. This one is CHEAP right now at Amazon as well, with the hardcover
going for less than $7! The 8th was a member of Field’s I Corps division
in the Army of Northern Virginia, and participated
in two
of the battles for Petersburg.

Red Diamond Regiment: The 17th Maine Infantry,

by William B. Jordan, Jr.

This is probably the one book in the group that is what
I would call an “instinct” buy. This one wasn’t recommended
to me per se, but “Anne” over at the Compuserve/Netscape ACW
Forums was kind enough to provide me with a
list of recommended books on the Petersburg Campaign
, and two regimentals
on the 17th Maine were listed. The 17th Maine was a member of Hancock’s
hard-fighting Union II Corps and participated in no less than five battles
during the
Siege of Petersburg between June 1864 and February 1865,
according to the National
Park Service’s Petersburg web site
, so that was an attractive feature
as well.

My Brave Boys: To War With Colonel Cross and the Fighting Fifth
by Mike Pride, Mark Travis

This book was also not explicitly recommended in the
two forums where I solicited opinions, but I’ve heard nothing but good
things about both the 5th New Hampshire and the book. The “Fighting
Fifth” was also a member of Hancock’s II Corps (although in a different
division than the 17th Maine), and they
participated in four fights
during the Petersburg Campaign.

Harvard’s Civil War: The History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry
by Richard F. Miller

The 20th Massachusetts is one of those interesting regiments,
unique in its own way because many of the men, including privates, were
Harvard graduates! More importantly for my needs, this book came recommended
to me from a few people, it was reasonably priced at Amazon, and the
20th was yet another of those II Corps regiments which saw plenty of
action, fighting
in no less than five engagements
during this time frame.

Galloping Thunder: The Story of the Stuart Horse Artillery Battalion
by Robert J. Trout

Interesting fact: the Stuart Horse Artillery Battalion
was broken in half at one point in the Petersburg Campaign, with part
staying put and the other part heading northwest to help Jubal Early
wage his fight against Phil Sheridan in the 1864 Valley Campaign. This
one was recommended to me by Steve Meserve, one of the regulars over
at the Compuserve/Netscape Civil War Forums. This one particularly appealed
to me because it covered an entire battalion of artillery rather than
just focusing in on one battery. Most of my other books in this initial
batch cover regiments, with only a few brigade/battalion level books.
This is one of those.

Mother, May You Never See the Sights I Have Seen: The Fifty-Seventh Massachusetts Veteran Volunteers in the Army of the Potomac, 1864-1865
by Warren Wilkinson

I mentioned Warren Wilkinson earlier in my blurb on
Scythe of Fire. This book has come doubly and triply recommended
to me. If you are going to buy only one regimental history to see what
they are like, this one is apparently the cream of the crop. The Fifty-Seventh
Massachusetts was absolutely decimated from the beginning of Grant’s
Overland Campaign until they reached Petersburg. I can’t remember the
exact numbers, but from the moment they stepped off as a brand new regiment
in May 1864 until some point early in the Siege of Petersburg, they
lost hundreds of men, and could field less than one hundred at one point.
In the Wilderness, they lost 48% of their initial strength. These men
truly went through hell and back. The 57th was a part of Burnside’s
(later Parke’s) well-traveled IX Corps, and after suffering the aforementioned
losses, they went on to
participate in fully six battles
of the Siege of Petersburg.

On Many a Bloody Field: Four Years in the Iron Brigade
by Alan D. Gaff

Gaff follows Company C of the famous 19th Indiana, a
part of the legendary Iron Brigade, Army of the Potomac. By the time
the Iron Brigade reached Petersburg, they had lost much of their previous
identity due to the large number of recruits needed to fill their ranks
after the bloodlettings at Antietam, Gettysburg, and even the Overland
Campaign. Nevertheless, the Union V Corps, to which these men belonged,
did a large portion of the fighting at Petersburg for the Union side.
The 19th participated
in two battles
of the Campaign. I had Alan Nolan’s history of the
Iron Brigade recommended to me as well, and I’m sure I’ll be picking
that tome up soon.

The Weary Boys: Colonel J. Warren Keifer and the 110th Ohio Volunteer Infantry
by Thomas E. Pope

The 110th Ohio is my representative for the Union VI
Corps. Although the VI Corps was occupied in the Shenandoah Valley for
a large portion of the Siege of Petersburg, I still wished to include
these troops in my Siege of Petersburg OOBs for what-if wargaming purposes. I
also happen to find the ’64 Valley Campaign to be fascinating. This
book is also pretty cheap at $10 (paperback), so it would make a nice
intro to unit histories for the budget-conscious.

The Twentieth Maine: A Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War
by John J Pullen

Pullen’s book on this very famous regiment came highly
recommended over at the Civil War Discussion Group. I had several people
second this nomination. Aside from saving the Union at Little Round
Top (feel free to debate the accuracy of this statement on your own
time, I don’t feel too strongly either way as Gettysburg gets discussed
far too much for my taste), the 20th Maine soldiered on and participated
in the Campaign for Petersburg. These men were also a part of Warren’s
V Corps, and they saw a lot of action at Petersburg, participating
in 7 battles
. I picked this one up at Abebooks, because the selection
at Amazon was limited and not to my liking.

Irish Rebels, Confederate Tigers: The 6th Louisiana Volunteers, 1861-1865
by James P. Gannon

Steve Basic (from the Garden State, that’s New Jersey
for those of you not in the know), Civil War buff and all-around nice
guy over at the CWDG, recommended this one to me. I needed some more
Confederate units and this one made sense on several levels. The 6th
was a part of Early’s (later Gordon’s) II Corps, Army of Northern Virginia
(aka Early’s Valley Army). Like their counterparts in the Union VI Corps,
Early’s boys were busy in the Shenandoah and threatening Washington,
D.C., among other things. The 6th Louisiana was a part of York’s combined
Louisiana Brigade and saw a lot of action, including
some late-war battles
at Petersburg. This one was also very reasonably
priced for a hardback.

Lee’s Tar Heels: The Pettigrew-Kirkland-MacRae Brigade
by Earl J. Hess

I’ve wanted this one for a long time, even before I
was interested in unit histories to this degree. This III Corps brigade
of North Carolinians was heavily involved in the fighting south of Petersburg
throughout the fall of 1864. See
the 11th North Carolina
for a representative example. I’m also a
big fan of Earl Hess’ work. Put two and two together and you’ve got
yourself a book that made sense for me to purchase this time around.

The Irish Brigade: And Its Campaigns
by D. P. Conyngham

This is THE history of this famous unit (thanks Harry).
The Irish participated with the rest of the II Corps in the Petersburg
Campaign, but like its hard-fighting counterpart the Iron Brigade, it
was decimated in earlier Eastern Campaigns, and had a lot of recruits
and conscripts by this point in its career. This was also a pretty reasonably
priced hardback on the secondary market.

This concludes my list of initial purchases. I wasn’t entirely satisfied
with the mix (not enough Confederate forces, no representative history
of any of the many Black regiments who fought in the Campaign, no units
from the Army of the James), but considering this is just the beginning
I’m content with what I bought. I hope to review and comment on many of
these books in the coming months. And by all means, if you know of any
regimental or unit histories of some hard-fighting regiments that participated
in the Petersburg Campaign (or in general, if you feel it’s a good book),
by all means give me your suggestions either in the comments section
here or in an email. David Woodbury’s of Battlefields and Bibliophiles
(I really like that blog title, it puts mine to shame!) also just posted the first part of what’s shaping up to be a great
list of unit histories.

Check out Brett’s list of the Top 10 Civil War Blogs!

Read many Civil War Book Reviews here at TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog!

Check out Beyond the Crater: The Petersburg Campaign Online for the latest on the Siege of Petersburg!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex Krolikowski December 31, 2005 at 4:58 am


first of all congratulations on very interesting website!


Brett Schulte December 31, 2005 at 8:34 am


First, let me mention that your English writing skills are excellent for someone whose first language isn’t English. I took four seemsters of German in college, so I know personally how difficult learning a second language can be.

Second, thanks for the recommendations and the mention of what they contain regarding Petersburg. I already purchased Lee’s Tar Heels, but another person also recommended the Missouri Brigade book to me. During the process of deciding what books to purchase, I almost picked up the book on Law’s Brigade as well.

Sword’s book on Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville is a good one. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

Brett S.


billy March 18, 2008 at 11:51 am

“Black , Copper, & Bright” is a regimental history of the First Regiment USCT, mustered in Wash DC. Despite some pretty low budget editing and confusing citations, C.R. Gibbs provides some invaluable background on DC’s black population before, during, and immediately after the Civil War.


Phillip Cole January 8, 2009 at 3:40 pm

They’ll do to tie to is the regimental history of the Third Arkansas Infantry the only Arkansas unit at Petersburg.

Calvin Collier wrote it.

I have it and it is a great book.

I think it has been reprinted and not to expensive.


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