- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; Reprint edition (February 8, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0807871400
- ISBN-13: 978-0807871409
Writing a regimental history can be tricky. Their is a delicate mix between combat and camp. How much time do you spend on the raising of and training the regiment? How much personality and internal politics can the book contain? Can the author introduce enough people to build a human face or will we have one story after another? Additionally, the regiment’s service needs to be something the reader can understand. An emphasis on one element means another is slighted or the page count grows. When an author finds the right mix, the results are entertaining and informative.
The 26th North Carolina has the distinction of the highest causality rate of any regiment in the Civil War. On the first day at Gettysburg, the regiment suffered badly fighting the Iron Brigade on Herr Ridge. Two days later, they were part of Picket’s Charge. They went into the battle one of the larger regiments in the Army of Northern Virginia and came out one of the smallest.
Rod Gragg captures the 26th, drawing a word picture that is both personal and professional. He keeps the events and personalities in perspective placing emphases where needed. This results in an interesting story that never lags. The heart of the book is the battle for Herr Ridge and Picket’s Charge. This is some of the best most realistic Civil War combat writing I have read. To say that the author puts the reader on the firing line is an understatement. We have enough knowledge to recognize causalities and understand the personal and professional loss. It is hard to write history that is a page-turner but the author did that.
This is a regimental history. As such, the concentration is at the regimental level with some consideration of Brigade. This is not a history of the battle for Herr Ridge or Picket’s Charge but of one regiment’s role. This is as it should be we only notice what is happening on the right or left when it affects us.
There is less information from Gettysburg to Appomattox but the writing is excellent capturing the heartbreak and dissolution of an army. “I was once a Soldier” and “Steadfast to the Last” cover the years after the war. These were years of pain, loss and reconciliation as the veterans age and the war’s memory is written.