Wither the Regiment?

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.

Shelves 2Union 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.

Why?

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.

 

About Dave Powell

I'm a middle-aged guy with a fascination with the American Civil War, and especially the battle of Chickamauga. In my day job, I am president and an owner of CBS Messenger, a courier company in Chicago, but whenever I can am off pursuing all things Chickamauga. I am also a wargamer, having designed more than fifteen boardgames on various battle topics. Join me as I ramble about things that hold my attention.
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11 Responses to Wither the Regiment?

  1. Chris Kolakowski says:

    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!

  2. Janet Chase says:

    I’d be interested to know if you have any information or correspondence of the 22nd USCT regiment. My great-great grandfather, William W. Burke, was a captain of Company C. I do have a synopsis of the regiment’s battle history, but no personal correspondence. I also have CDVs of other officers in the regiment. Any information will be much appreciated.

  3. lincgetty says:

    As I am an armchair historian, who buys great quantities of military history books, you have hit the nail on the head. The unit involved should come immediately after the name of the individual writing the account, at least on the inside flap of the book. Just my thoughts on the subject as a very amateur “history buff.”

  4. “I admit I have no power over my book-buying.”
    Ha! You’re in good company here, I’m sure.😉 This is quite timely as I’m presently in the midst of attempting to organize my own library. Thanks for a great post!

  5. Jim Madden says:

    You should consult:
    Dornbusch, C. E., comp. Military Bibliography of the Civil War. New York: New York Public Library, 1971. (4 vols.)
    Vol. I: lists the regimental publications and personal narratives for the Union Army and the dates mustered in and mustered out.
    Vol. II: regimental publications and personal narratives for units of both armies from the Confederate, border and western states.
    Vol III: general references, campaigns and battles.
    Vol. IV: regimental publications and personal narratives, brief Union and Confederate biographies. Indexes

    A worthwhile civil war reference which will help with units and even battles. While the last update is from 1993, it will be an asset to known regimentals, diaries and papers up until that time.

  6. I agree. Private Oney F. Sweet served in the 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery, Battery F (Ricketts’ Battery at Gettysburg). It is clearly stated on the back cover of the book containing his letters and diaries: What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters & Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet.

  7. yes i also agree it would be a perfect reference world if we had them all id,
    I can also relate to the book buying frenzy. as they say just as you think its safe to go back in the water . A nother one appears. We here at Echos Thru Time museum and learning center have the largest library in western New York all for free use . Over 1500 volumes. I have over 1200 in my own as well.
    proud to be a book worm. Be
    Good to see you at the Buffalo Round Table meeting soon Chris.

  8. mchardy2014 says:

    Dave- any idea how many regiments US/CS? How many of them have regimental histories written by the participants, and written since the 1960s? Thanks!

    • Dave Powell says:

      I have approximately 350 Federal regimentals, the rest CS. Most of what I have in hardcopy are modern works, though some are definitely reprints. I have about 100 digital books, mostly downloaded from Internet Archive, saved as pdfs. Those are all written by participants, now public domain thanks to expired copyright. I have a few in both digital and hard formats – decided I wanted to find some of the better regimentals for my shelves as well as my tablet.

      As you probably know, CS regimentals are rare. When I see one I grab it, unless it is really bad or really overpriced.

  9. John Fox says:

    Dave – I agree and believe the lack of a unit mentioned on dust jacket flap is cluelessness by author/editor and too many editors at most publishing companies know zero about the CW. My other pet peeve is publishers who put out battle/unit histories and provide either zero maps or poorly designed pieces of crap that do not help the reader. Thankfully Savas Beatie does not fall into either category.

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