Review: A History of the 3rd South Carolina Regiment: Lee’s Reliables

by Brett Schulte on April 14, 2009 · 2 comments

3rdsouthcarolinawyckoff 197x300 Review: <i>A History of the 3rd South Carolina Regiment: Lee’s Reliables</i>This is the fourth and final review of the inaugural titles in the South Carolina Regimental-Roster Set series from Broadfoot Publishing Company.  A significant portion of each review will show you how this particular volume compared to the others in the series in terms of regimental history length, amount of annotation, depth and print size of rosters, bibliography, illustrations, and maps.  I do this to show readers just how different each volume can be.  The South Carolina Regimental-Roster Set bears a striking external appearance to the H.E. Howard Virginia Regimental Histories series.  These books were, in fact designed as a South Carolina answer to the Virginia unit histories.  Broadfoot hopes to publish 50 volumes in this set, but that plan is dependent on how well these and subsequent books in the series sell.  If you are interested in seeing this entire series printed, I encourage you to pick up these volumes immediately rather than put off purchases until later.

Wyckoff, Mac. A History of the 3rd South Carolina Regiment: Lee’s Reliables (2008). 333 pages, photos, maps, roster, notes, bibliography. ISBN: 978-1-56837-411-6 $40.00 (Hardcover).

cppbanner Review: <i>A History of the 3rd South Carolina Regiment: Lee’s Reliables</i>

Mac Wyckoff’s title on the 3rd South Carolina is a very readable traditional unit history filled with maps and illustrations which allows the soldiers to help tell their own story.  This second edition of the book expands on the first edition, published in 1995 but obviously not as a title in the South Carolina Regimental-Roster Set series.  Wyckoff’s writing style, his seamless integration of soldier letters and diaries, and his use of numerous maps and illustrations combine to make this volume arguably the best of the four books released in this series to date, arguable mainly only because of a larger than normal number of typos for this series to date.

Author Mac Wyckoff is an excellent choice to pen not only this book but numerous South Carolina unit histories.  He is the owner of the South Carolina in the Civil War web site, has written not only this book but also a unit history of the 2nd South Carolina (not in this series, at least not yet!), and much like Lee Sturkey’s knowledge of the Hampton Legion, Wyckoff has been studying the 3rd South Carolina for over 20 years.

The 3rd South Carolina, “Lee’s Reliables”, were involved in many of the major battles of the war, most of these as a member unit of Kershaw’s South Carolina Brigade.  Despite being present at First Manassas they did not see their first real fighting until Savage Station during the Seven Days.  Interestingly, they lost the third most casualties of any battle they were involved in here in their first fight.  After this bloody introduction, they played only a supporting role at Malvern Hill.  After missing Second Manassas, the 3rd helped capture Harpers Ferry and fought in the West Woods during the Antietam Campaign.  At Fredericksburg, Lee’s Reliables were in the thick of the fight on Marye’s Heights, losing 41% of the regiment and more men than at any other battle they were in other than Chickamauga.  After being involved in all four days at Chancellorsville with very light losses, the 3rd participated in the Gettysburg Campaign.  They were involved in the heavy fighting on day 2 near Stony Hill as part of Longstreet’s assault on the Union left.  In the fall of 1863 the unit was sent west with much of Longstreet’s Corps and saw heavy fighting on day 2 at Chickamauga, unsuccessfully assaulting Horseshoe Ridge.  The South Carolinians here suffered the largest losses in a battle they would ever incur in the entire war.  They also participated in the abortive Siege of Knoxville and spent the winter of 1863 in east Tennessee.  Kershaw was promoted to division command at this time, and Wyckoff says the brigade lost much effectiveness for the rest of the war since a suitable replacement was never found.  The spring of 1864 saw the unit heavily involved at the Wilderness, where long time Colonel James Nance was killed, an event which also saw a loss of combat effectiveness for the regiment.  The 3rd continued on and fought at the Spindle Farm in the Battle of Spotsylvania, suffered many men captured while attempting to hold a bridgehead at the North Anna River, and played a minor role at Cold Harbor and the Battle of Petersburg.  During the Siege of Petersburg, the 3rd along with the rest of Kershaw’s Brigade unsuccessfully attempted to eliminate the Union Deep Bottom bridgehead across the James during the First Battle of Deep Bottom in late July.  Kershaw’s entire division was sent to the Shenandoah Valley in August to help Early’s Valley Army against Philip Sheridan.  The regiment and the brigade performed poorly during this time, suffering men captured at picket posts in two unfortunate incidents.  By the time of Cedar Creek, there were hardly any experienced officers left in the entire brigade.  After that defeat, Kershaw’s Brigade spent the winter near Richmond before being sent to South Carolina to counter Sherman’s Union forces which had just reached Savannah, Georgia.  The 3rd participated in the defense of the Carolinas including the Battle of Bentonville before surrendering with Johnston’s Army to Sherman.

Readers will get to know quite a few members of the 3rd South Carolina when reading the book.  Colonel James Nance was a single man and an excellent soldier, recommended for promotion to brigadier general by Robert E. Lee himself prior to his untimely death at the Wilderness.  “Drate” Rutherford served as the Lt. Colonel of the regiment for quite some time as well.  His letters to his beloved wife Sallie are recounted through most of the book as well.  Young John (“YJ”) Pope was often described as a playboy, despite being engaged to Nance’s sister for most of the war!  Tally Simpson, one of the very best sources of information on the regiment from those who served, was attempting to find himself a new girlfriend through a good portion of the war.  He finally settled on one young lady back home without ever having seen her face!  Many other members of the regiment help bring this story to life in varying degrees.

The regimental history of the 3rd South Carolina is the longest unit history of the four inaugural books in this series.  I recently found out in an interview with Hampton Legion historian Lee Sturkey that Mac Wyckoff’s unit history was the only one which had been written prior to the authors being invited to contribute to this roster series.  Wyckoff’s recounting of the 3rd South Carolina’s movements and actions fills 364 pages.  The author used endnotes at the end of each chapter, making it much easier to glance at these while reading the text.  The number of notes in this book is second only to Lee Sturkey’s tremendous effort in that area.

This book contains by far the most maps in the series to date, although they are of varying quality and came from a variety of sources.  The best maps are those created by Tim Belshaw and credited to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.  These maps show regimental level unit positions on detailed topographical maps and are some of the best I have seen included in a regimental history.  Many of the members of the unit are shown in illustrations scattered evenly throughout the unit history, allowing readers to put faces to the names of some of the members of the regiment who were mentioned in the text.

Oddly, although the rosters are just as detailed as the other rosters in the set, they are set in smaller type, making them less easy to read.  With that said, this type is still as large as the text in the unit history, so this is more of an observation than any indication of a flaw or defect as far as the rosters go.  In a note Wyckoff mentions that the rosters were compiled after four years of research.

The bibliography features many unpublished manuscripts, newspapers of the time, and other primary sources.  The author also includes a nice array of secondary sources.

The one flaw in the book was the number of typos.  The word “initiative” is used often, and in many cases is misspelled “imitative”.  Phrases are sometimes repeated at the beginning and end of sentences as well.  This was enough of a distraction to take away slightly from my enjoyment of the book.

A History of the 3rd South Carolina Regiment: Lee’s Reliables by Mac Wyckoff is arguably the best volume in the South Carolina Regimental-Roster Set written to date.  The lengthy, well-written account of this key member of Kershaw’s South Carolina Brigade is enhanced by the use of soldier letters, at times excellent maps, and many illustrations.  Unlike some of the other books in the series, the unit history is able to stand even with the roster as the most useful portion of the book.  Although the font of the type used on the rosters in this book is smaller than the other three, it does not detract from the experience.  Those who had ancestors in the 3rd South Carolina will want a copy of this book for their library.  Students of the war who enjoy reading regimental histories will find this an above average example of this subset of books.  Despite some minor editing issues, I highly recommend this book as the best of the four current titles in the series.

NOTE: This brings to a close my look at the first four books in Broadfoot Publishing’s South Carolina Regimental-Roster Set series.  You may be interested in the other three book reviews I did on this series as well as interviews with Publisher Tom Broadfoot and author O. Lee Sturkey.  Check out the related posts links at the bottom of this title to see more on this series here at TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog.

I would like to thank Tom Broadfoot at Broadfoot Publishing Company.

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

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