Civil War Book Review: Of Duty Well and Faithfully Done: A History of the Regular Army in the Civil War

by James Durney on September 19, 2011 · 0 comments

Of Duty Well and Faithfully Done: A History of the Regular Army in the Civil War
by Clayton R. Newell and Dr. Charles R. Sharder

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 424 pages
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press (July 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803219105
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803219106

A unique and valuable book!

Of Duty Well and Faithfully Done: A History of the Regular Army in the Civil WarPrior to 1861, the United States Army is well under 20,000 soldiers most assigned to post in “Indian Territory”.  Promotion occurs when someone who outranks you dies.  Food is bad; isolation breeds drinking, petty feuds and gossip is the major sports.  With no retirement, Captains are in their 40s, Majors in their 50s, Colonels and Generals in their 60s or 70s.  Many Field Grade Officers are to infirmed to go into the field.  The General in Chief cannot ride a horse.  Many officers have resigned their commission.  Enlisted men desert at every opportunity.

In 1864, the United States has an army of about one million soldiers concentrated in two major armies and several smaller ones.  Food has improved.  Pay is much better.  There is a retirement system in place.  Most Generals are the age of Captains in the old army.  The officers that resigned their commissions are back in the ranks.  While Bounty Jumpers are a major problem, desertion is down.

This book looks at the role of the professional army during the Civil War.  Along the way, we learn about army management and logistics.  We come to understand the legal inconsistencies and political in fighting between the War Department, General-in-Chief, the Washington Staff and the armies in the field.  It makes sense that in 1862 a Captain can tell General Grant “No” and get away with it.  He is staff, Grant is field and Washington backs the staff officer right or wrong.

This is not an easy read.  It is not an exciting read full of battles, bugle calls and bullets.  This is a careful examination and explanation of the army’s departments, their functions, success and failures during the war.  Tables abound, they are very well done and very necessary.  The authors have a very sure hand, presenting information in a combination of text and tables each complementing the other.  The book is full of nuggets of information that are both fun and informative.  Even in the driest department discussion, I always found a nugget of information that linked to other reading.  That is the real value of this book.  It is the best explanation of how the army worked that I have seen.  The information here will go into my papers and talks.  If you wish to understand how the army worked, this is the book for you.

After reading 192 pages on administration, you reach “The Army in the Field”.  This looks at the fighting these men did during the war.  The chapter “Transition to War” covers the years leading up to the war.  We see an army of professionals fighting Indians, Northern and Southern bound by shared experiences.  We see the breaking of that bound and understand the emotions.  The Infantry, The Cavalry, The Artillery and The Fight Bureaus cover the war.  This is a regiment-by-regiment, battle by battle history.  The regular army fought beside the volunteers in every theater and most of the major battles, at times playing a crucial role.

Reflections on the Regular Army in the Civil War covers changing from an invading army to an army of occupation.  The Civil War forever changed the army, this book is a look at what and who they were.


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