Hi. My name is Dave. I admit I have no power over my book-buying.
Lately, I have been focused on unit histories and personal narratives. According to my Librarything account, I have 564 (and counting) books listed under the “regimental” tag – my catch-all for unit histories, including brigades, divisions, armies; as well as personal narratives like diaries, memoirs, letter collections, etc.
Union on the left, Confederate works on the right. The binders to the lower right are my Chickamauga materials.
But I am not here to confess my book addiction. Instead, I want to talk about something of seemingly minor importance, but which I find very annoying.
Sometimes, some of the personal narratives don’t make it obvious what regiment their author served in. I first noticed this when I was organizing said shelves, sorting by state, branch, and regimental number. Often, the regiment isn’t apparent on the title page, the dust-jacket blurbs, or even in the introductory material. I have to go paging through the book looking for clues to the unit in question.
A Civil War regiment was a soldier’s home-away-from-home, his family in the field (often literally, given how many fathers & sons, brothers, and cousins served together.) It was the most important military association in a soldier’s life. Sometimes staying with the regiment even meant the difference between living and dying.
Failing to make that information prominent right up-front is a big mistake. Sometimes the editor/modern author is an amateur, publishing their ancestor’s letters or memoir for posterity, and perhaps not understanding that regimental connection is more understandable. But a fair number of these things are published by academics of some sort, and while they might not be fully-fledged historians, they should understand the basic information needs of such a work.
In this case, any narrative should identify the regiment clearly, either in the title or in the jacket design.
Knowing the regiment gives the reader/researcher a treasure trove of additional information. We suddenly know the combat experience of the unit. We know what theater they served in, we know if it was a first-to-volunteer command from 1861 or a late-war arrival of 1863 or 1864. We know what region of their state the man and his comrades likely came from; we can soon discern (to cite an example) if the regiment was comprised of fervent secessionsists or grudging draftees, with no connection to slavery and little interest in the cause.
A clear regimental affiliation also sells books, which should be no small consideration for a modern editor or publisher. There have been times that I almost passed on picking up a volume, until I realized the unit in question was one I was interested in.
All my own research is organized by regiment. Those binders you see in that picture, above, are filled manuscript copies, organized by regiment. My bibliography for Chickamauga includes one item of information which the Chicago Manual of Style ignores – Again, the regiment. I list them like this:
Arkansas History Commission, Little Rock, Arkansas
Nat G. Pierce Papers (14th Ohio Infantry)
W. C. Guest Letter (2nd Arkansas Infantry)
J. C. Sharp Letters (51st/52nd Tennessee Infantry)
Given the huge number of personal narratives in those binders, I am not sure how I could keep things straight any other way. I am hoping my publisher agrees – regimental affiliations will be in the final copy, if I have a say in it.
I wish other books did the same. As a guy who spends a lot of time reading bibliographies, looking for interesting sources, it would be hugely useful to know regimental affiliation at a glance, instead of hunting through text and footnotes.
Maybe this is a small thing, this neglect of regimental affiliation. But I have encountered the phenomenon often enough now to wonder why it happens in the first place . Hopefully it will be less neglected in the future.