Book Reviews

The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War: A History of the 12th Virginia Infantry from John Brown’s Hanging to

Appomattox, 1859-1865

Courier Book Review by Greg M. Romaneck

“I began to realize what camp life is, when I washed my face & hands in a horse bucket and wiped them in my handkerchief.” In this way young George Bernard of Petersburg, Virginia described his early experiences soldiering with what was to become the Army of Northern Virginia.

Bernard, who was a lawyer by trade and who would become a successful legislator in his home county after the war, lived through the Civil War and participated in nearly every major engagement fought in the eastern theater of operations.

Bernard was paroled out of the Confederate Army at Appomattox and left the war as a grizzled veteran.

A reluctant fighter at first, Bernard lived through all the dangers, boredom, loneliness, comradeship, and suffering that veteran combat soldiers experienced in America’s costliest war.

By war’s end, Bernard had fought in places such as Antietam, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Petersburg, South Mountain, and the Seven Days Campaign.

In addition, Bernard fought in a number of smaller scale engagements, some of which were even more costly to his regiment than the major battles they participated in.

When Bernard left Confederate service, he ended his formal ties with a unit that in many ways defined a significant portion of his entire life.

That unit was the 12th Virginia Infantry, and it is the subject of this recent and thoroughly engaging regimental history.

In The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War historian John Horn brings to life the men who served in 12th Virginia.

The 12th was originally mustered into Confederate service on April 20, 1862.

Made up of militia companies that pre-dated the war, the 12th included men whose active service under arms included historic events.

Men in several of the 12th’s companies served as part of the security detail that accompanied John Brown on the day of his execution.

Once formed, the men of the 12th set about to elect officers for their unit.

One man, whose background included active military service in the Mexican War as well as being an instructor at a noteworthy southern military school, was put up for election as the first colonel of the 12th.

However, this particular veteran officer was seen as too rigid and eccentric for the men of the 12th so they passed on selecting him to shepherd them through the beginning of their military service.

That officer was Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and, despite the 12th’s rejection of him, his leadership was to have a significant impact upon the fate of men in the new regiment regardless of their rejection of him.

It is anecdotes such as the 12th’s vetoing of Stonewall Jackson as their colonel or the fact that John Wilkes Booth served in one of their companies prior to the war, that lifts this regimental history into the realm of excellence. Horn takes his time in laying out not only the tactical successes and failures of the 12th Virginia but also tells the story of the men who made up this fighting regiment. Using ample primary sources, Horn is able to detail the lives and deaths of unit members set against the backdrop of their storied service. The 12th was not a renowned regiment, and even came under fire from other southern units and the Confederate press, for its early war efforts at Seven Pines. However, by war’s end, the 12th paid full measure to its country via its service. Over the course of the war, the 12th was part of the litany of battles fought by the Army of Northern Virginia. Men in this regiment fought and died in the major battles that Robert E. Lee fought. By war’s end, over 10% of the men who served at any time in the 12th were killed in battle, succumbed to wounds, died of illness, or perished in Union prison camps. This rate of lethality would qualify the 12th as one of Fox’s Fighting 300 Regiments. Ironically, the two engagements which cost the 12th its highest casualty figures were at Crampton Gap during the South Mountain engagement and in the fight at Globe Tavern during the Petersburg campaign. In those two battles the 12th suffered 57.3% and 41.4% casualties respectively. These losses topped what the 12th lost in larger battles even though they fought in terrible situations inclusive of the Bloody Lane at Antietam, The Crater, and near the Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania. This pattern of loss, as Horn points out in this compelling book, reinforces the fact that for some regiments it was not so much the grandness of an engagement that exacted an individual unit’s toll but the specific circumstances that soldiers faced at given moments in any battle.

In recreating the story of the men of the 12th Virginia, Horn pulls no punches. While Horn’s narrative does justice to the comradeship, accomplishments, and bravery of many of the men who served in the 12th, the author touches on grittier elements of their service. Where there was bravery there was also cowardice. Several members of the 12th were courts martialed and sentenced to death for failure to fulfil their duties. In some instances, these men were given a second chance to carry out their duties and avoid the firing squad.

Horn recounts several instances where men sentenced to death redeemed themselves and lived on.

In other situations, men deemed cowards by a military court did not redeem themselves and were gunned down by their own comrades.

These executions, and all their attendant grimness, are clearly described by Horn. Similarly, the clash of battle is vividly described by Horn, often using the words of members of the unit.

Horn also is unflinching in recording the horrors of battle and the effect it had on the men who endured combat.

Of particular force are Horn’s description of combat during the fighting at The Crater, where soldiers in the 12th, and other Confederate formations, gunned down African-American USCT prisoners by the dozens in a battle where no quarter was given to freedmen.

The Civil War was a very bloody affair, and John Horn is very graphic in depicting the battles where the 12th Virginia fought.

Perhaps the strongest parts of this book are those which describe the daily life of common soldiers who were just trying to survive not just combat but also the difficulties of camp life, marching, and just trying to cope with the elements.

On page after page of this striking book readers will see the daily struggles of Civil War soldiers.

Trying to stay warm in the winter, dry in rainstorms, or upright and able to march when footsore were issues that dogged not only the men of the 12th but many of the roughly three million men who served in the Civil War. In Horn’s outstanding work, readers will see men leaving bloodstains in the snow as they march without shoes or feel lucky to be able to strip the dead foes to find suitable pants or coats.

In Horn’s history, men at war leap off the pages as full-blooded figures and not just background extras in some sweeping tactical history. If you are interested in revisiting what it must have been like for the men of the 12th to serve, this is the book for you.

By the end of the war, the Army of Northern Virginia was a shadow of its prior glory. The 12th served all the way to Appomattox and was part of the final surrender of Lee’s warriors.

The men who survived their time of service with the 12th returned home to be with their families but they did so with memories that set them apart from those who had not served.

Horn does a nice job of tracking some of the individual soldiers who are part of his narrative and letting the reader know what they did after the war. Horn also provides his readers with information throughout the book that will be of value to readers who wish to better understand just what these men did.

Throughout the book Horn inserts 32 maps and 8 regimental diagrams that allow the reader to better grasp the tactical situations confronted by the 12th in its engagements.

In the final section of the book, Horn provides a series of three charts that detail the casualties suffered by the 12th and how they compared to other regiments both North and South.

In addition, Horn includes photos of a number of men who served in the 12th and peppers them throughout the body of this fine work. These informational aides, linked to the wonderful narrative abilities that Horn possesses as a writer, makes The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War: A History of the 12th Virginia Infantry from John Brown’s Hanging to Appomattox, 1859-1865 a first rate regimental history and a Civil War book that will appeal to any reader interested in this portion of U.S. history.

Title: The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War: A History of the 12th Virginia Infantry from John Brown’s Hanging to Appomattox, 1859-1865

Author: John Horn

Publisher: Savas Beatie

Pages: 439

Price: $39.95

Hard Cover

A Civil War Captain and His Lady: Love, Courtship, and Combat from Fort Donelson through the Vicksburg

Campaign

Courier Book Reviewed by Carol Campbell

A Civil War Captain and His Lady: Love, Courtship, and Combat from Fort Donelson through the Vicksburg Campaign, skillfully researched and written by Gene Barr, tells the story of Josiah Moore’s journey through the American Civil War with the Seventeenth Illinois Infantry.

Seventeen chapters, multiple maps, numerous photographs and images help the author tell the love story of Josiah and the lovely Jane Elizabeth Lindsay.

This Civil War story begins on April 20, 1861, in a small Illinois town called Monmouth.

The local newspaper, the Atlas, had announced a meeting would take place in the local courthouse for the formation of a unit to help stop the Southern states’ rebellion. Students from the local college also gathered at the courthouse. The author points out that Monmouth College, a Presbyterian institution located in Warren County, “was noteworthy” because females were also admitted.

The author used an interesting format to tell their story of the Seventeenth Illinois Infantry – brief inserts of narrative combined with letters to and from the protagonists: Josiah Moore and Jane Elizabeth Lindsay.

He also indicates that the letters provide a viewpoint on mid-Nineteenth Century courtship.

These letters also bring local and national politics to the forefront. Jennie’s father was a member of the Illinois Senate, and actually was considered a Peace Democrat or Copperhead, which may have caused some conflict within the Lindsay’s home.

A significant age difference could have added to the Lindsay’s family difficulties with Josiah’s interest in their daughter as he was eight years older than Jennie. Another potential difficulty was Josiah’s nationality.

Though long a resident of Illinois, Josiah’s original homeland was Ireland.

The truly unfortunate aspect of this wonderful love story is that no Seventeenth Illinois Regimental History has been published.

However, the author, Gene Barr, did an excellent job searching through both published and unpublished materials to locate information relating to the unit’s western service during the Civil War.

Barr is to be complimented on his careful research relating to the western Civil War units and battles!

The collection of letters begin on June 26, 1961 with Josiah’s “Dear Lady” salutation: Jennie answers from Peoria on July 11, 1861, addressing her “Dear Friend” [Pgs. 27-29].

Just over a year later, on August 19th, Jennie continues to address her “Dear Friend” but closes this particular epistle with “Yours ever” [Pgs. 125-126]. By June of 1863, Josiah has progressed to “My Dear Jennie” yet Jennie’s answering letter continues with “Dear Friend” [Pgs. 222-229].

By 1864, Jennie’s letters seem to have been lost as Josiah’s letters continue and begin with “My Dearly Beloved” or more simply “Beloved friend.”

That enough letters survived from that time period to tell this love story is delightful!

The series of letters include local information as well as war-time battles and efforts to end the long Civil War.

Near the end of June, 1864, Josiah has served is enlistment period and is back in Hanover, Illinois. He writes Jennie that he regrets not being able to talk with her father but plans to speak with him.

Included in a footnote is the author’s speculation that Josiah’s regret in not being able to talk with Jennie’s father indicates that “. . . Mr. Lindsay almost certainly referred to his intention to ask for Jennie’s hand in marriage” [Pg. 295].

Only days after his military service ended, Josiah – still in uniform – married Jennie at the Lindsay’s home.

Yet another separation began shortly after their marriage – Josiah returned to Monmouth College to complete his undergraduate degree, toiled through and received his master’s degree, and then remained to complete the college’s degree in seminary studies [Pg. 305].

Though she visited Josiah at Monmouth College, Jennie’s primary location was Peoria until June of 1867 [Pg. 305].

During the Post-War years, Josiah served a variety of Illinois’ Presbyterian churches and a brief time as a missionary in Missouri. The couple had six children but lost two through early deaths. In later years, Josiah served as the chaplain for the Grand Army of the Republic in Illinois.

As he aged, Josiah suffered from health issues relating to his Civil War service and applied for a soldier’s pension under the June 27, 1890 Pension Act [Pg. 312]. Josiah died in February, 1897, and was buried in Peoria, Illinois. Jennie’s death occurred in October of 1924 and she was buried in “. . . suburban Chicago” [Pg. 316]. Post-Civil War, Josiah had invested carefully and bequeathed to Jennie an estate valued around $13,000. She also received a widow’s pension amounting to $12.00 each month [Pg. 316].

According to the author, no one knows why this truly devoted couple were buried so far apart.

In A Civil War Captain and His Lady: Love, Courtship, and Combat from Fort Donelson through the Vicksburg Campaign, the author, Gene Barr, takes the reader into the dangers of the western region during the first years of America’s Civil War and counters that dangerous situation with the peaceful life in Illinois.

In telling Josiah’s and Jennie’s stories through their letters -- enhanced by his careful research -- the author has written an exciting and wonderful story of a love that persisted through adversity and loneliness.

I can easily admit that I have read hundreds of books written about the American Civil War, and that I own many more of those enjoyable books than I should. However, most Civil War books just tell the reader of the war, of important leaders, or of significant battles. Gene Barr has added another dimension in that he pulls the reader into the maelstrom of battle, the boredom endured during the long siege at Vicksburg, the poignant loss of friends and loved ones, and the longing for one’s beloved – each so very close to the other’s heart but still physically so far away.

Title: A Civil War Captain and His Lady: Love, Courtship, and Combat

From Fort Donelson through the Vicksburg Campaign

Author: Gene Barr

Publisher: Savas Beaty

Pages: 316

Price: 32.95

Hardback

Redeeming the South Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War

By Elizabeth R. Varon

Courier Review by Katy Berman

In the borough of Manhattan, near the entrance to Central Park, stands a majestic, gilded, equestrian statue memorializing General William Tecumseh Sherman. It is the last major work of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens who had previously modelled several busts of the General; one notices immediately that the likeness is quite good.

However, the depiction of a gleaming, grim-faced, rough-hewn Sherman astride a golden horse is amusing to modern eyes. What makes it even more curious is the glorious, golden angel triumphantly preceding Sherman. She has been created in the classical, allegorical style, noble and triumphant.

Her upraised fist grips a palm branch while beneath the hooves of Sherman’s horse is a branch of Georgia Pine. The angel is open-mouthed, as if she is heralding the approach of a conqueror, a liberator, a savior.

Historian Elizabeth R. Varon’s recent work, Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War, tells the story that Gaudens’ statue so magnificently suggests. Northerners perceived themselves as moral crusaders meant to restore the blessings of Union to the unfortunate victims of an insidious and treasonous Slave Power, the South’s “deluded masses.” “Bringing civilization in its wake,” northern armies would redeem the South from its poverty and backwardness.

A new economy would spring forth based upon northern values of industriousness and free labor. This sense of mission was important to northern politicians, soldiers, and civilians well into the Reconstruction period.

Varon skillfully weaves her theme through a narrative that covers major battles and politics, the experiences of women and African-Americans.

She frequently acknowledges the insights of fellow-historians, and adds a rich array of new voices to the historical record. The story is told, admittedly, from a sympathetic Northern perspective. Neither Confederate governance nor military efforts are neglected, but in Armies of Deliverance, the emphasis is placed upon the North’s evolving war aims and political conflicts.

The challenges facing the Lincoln administration were immense and unprecedented. Abolitionists within the Republican Party wanted their President to move quickly towards emancipation. Many northern Democrats blamed the war upon abolitionists, and shared General George McClellan’s opinion that the war was needed solely to “reestablish law and order.” Lincoln needed to give consideration to the burgeoning numbers of fugitive slaves and weigh the arguments for and against their enlistment in the U.S. Army. As the federal armies conquered territory, Lincoln needed to plan for the reentry of seceded states into the Union.

Disagreements between northern Democrats and Republicans intensified as the war progressed, particularly after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation and establishment of the draft. A strong peace movement arose within the Democratic Party which advocated a negotiated settlement with the South and an end to the slaughter. Peace Democrats rejected emancipation and argued for a Union as it had once been (something Jefferson Davis would never agree to). Draft riots broke out across the North, most terribly in New York City, fired by the fears of immigrants that free blacks would take jobs away from them. Within his own cabinet, Treasury Secretary Samuel P. Chase plotted to supplant Lincoln as the Republican nominee for President in the 1864 election.

Of course, the North’s lasting moral crusade was the liberation of the South’s four million slaves.

This was achieved by northern armies and politicians, and, notably, by African-Americans themselves. Varon describes the crucial role blacks played in their own emancipation, from serving as a spy (Harriet Tubman), to endeavoring to shape public opinion ( Frederick Douglass and journalist Robert Hamilton), or simply escaping plantations to the protection of the Union armies.

African-American abolitionists saw themselves as a “redeemer race,” one destined help the United States live up to its original promise. As the United States Colored Troops moved into combat roles, Lincoln wrote in a public letter that they were “the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion.”

Not all northerners expected the “deluded masses” of the South to welcome Union armies of deliverance. After Antietam, a correspondent for the Christian Recorder interviewed wounded Confederate prisoners in the area.

His conclusion: “We are not yet cured of our folly in believing what deserters and spies tell us, that there are men in the rebel army who have no love for the cause,” He added, chillingly, that there was “perfect discipline” in the ranks, and “bitter hatred . . real and intense,” for their foes. To their peril, the North blinded themselves to the strong regional patriotism that existed even among many southern unionists.

The policies of hard-war executed by Generals Ulysses S. Grant, Sherman, and Philip Sheridan further embittered the South. Varon refers to a conclusion drawn by historian Lisa Tendrich Frank: Sherman’s troops “had the effect of reinvigorating elite women’s Confederate patriotism.”

Emma Holmes was one such woman. Holmes recorded in her diary how she had mocked two of Sherman’s soldiers: “I taunted them with warring on women and children (and) their pretense of fighting for the old flag.” Holmes warned them that the South “would never be subdued.”

Varon’s admirable volume can serve as an introduction to the Civil War or as a fresh perspective for the initiated.

Furthermore, it is an excellent read. Varon presents her information in a clear, organized, and comprehensive manner; she seems to sense just how much attention to give each topic.

Her history is proof that there is far more we can learn about the Civil War. There are voices that deserve to be heard, issues and events that require greater study.

Title: Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War

Author: Elizabeth R. Varon

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Pages: 488

Price: $34.95

Johnsonville: Union Supply Operations on the Tennessee River and The Battle of

Johnsonville, November 4-5, 1864

Courier Book Review by Greg M. Romaneck

In November of 1864 Nathan Bedford Forest led his troops toward the Union supply depot located at Johnsonville, Tennessee. The Johnsonville installation was one of the most critical Union supply depots in the western theater of operations.

Established at the end of the Nashville and Northwestern Military Railroad in September, 1864, Johnsonville was a major source of supply storage and distribution that assisted Union forces in Tennessee and Georgia.

Forest’s attack was the culmination of his campaign along the Tennessee River and resulted in the fiery destruction of millions of dollars of Federal supplies, equipment, and ships. The story of this successful Confederate raid and the logistical center at Johnsonville is the focus of this recent Civil War study by Jerry T. Wooten.

In Johnsonville readers are given a fascinating look at one critical aspect of the logistical work done by the Union Army during its efforts to suppress a large-scale rebellion stretching across vast territories.

For the Union armies to prevail it was necessary that the might of Federal transport and supply services were effectively mobilized. The Union had a significant advantage in terms of railroad capacities, manufacturing resources, engineering skills, and overall logistical capabilities.

These advantages were noteworthy but required expertise on the ground so that they could be effectively utilized.

The story of how the Johnsonville supply depot was established and used was one that demonstrated just how the Union forces were able to leverage their material superiorities in ways that greatly assisted in their ultimate victory in the Civil War.

As Wooten notes in this concise history of an overlooked subject, Johnsonville was selected as the site for a major logistical hub due to its location.

Johnsonville was along the Tennessee River and was the right spot to concentrate supplies for eventual dissemination to Union forces operating in locations such as northern Georgia, western and central Tennessee, and Mississippi. In order to facilitate the establishment of the Johnsonville depot, it was necessary to build an entire railroad stretching from Nashville all the way to the Tennessee River.

The construction of this military railroad was a herculean task that required approximately one year of planning and labor, the impressment of thousands of men to complete the work, countless guerrilla raids, and significant cost overruns.

By September 1864 the Union Army had used over 14,500 men to build and protect this railway. Among the men who carried out the backbreaking work needed to build the line were 7,300 impressed free African-American men.

These freedmen were forced to work for the Federal railway program and carried out terrible physical labor without either payment or choice.

A further 6,500 USCT troops participated in the construction and defense of the railway along with upwards of 700 Federal engineers. When completed, the Johnsonville line was a feat of human effort typical of the countless hours of work done on the Union wartime logistical system.

Johnsonville, itself, was a minor settlement until the Federals arrived.

The few residents at Johnsonville were quickly overwhelmed by the arrival of thousands of Union workers, railway employees, and African-American troops and laborers.

Almost immediately about 100 acres of trees were cut down and transformed into the boards needed to construct the supply depot. In short order saw mills, supply warehouses, docks, and any number of other structures were built.

Within days of the depot’s construction, supplies began to arrive for distribution or storage. On a daily basis, Johnsonville welcomed supply ships, gunboats, trains, and barges all of which were pieces in the vast Union logistical system.

In no time at all, Johnsonville became one of the busiest supply distribution centers in the South. This volume of supply redistribution made Johnsonville a prime target for the Confederates.

As noted above, only two months after its establishment, Johnsonville came under attack by the redoubtable Nathan Bedford Forest.

En route to Johnsonville, Forest and his men had successfully captured or destroyed several Federal supply ships and gunboats.

Forest had even manned two of his captured Federal “Tinclads” and used them against their former owners.

At Johnsonville, Forest fought a battle unique in Civil War history. Forest’s attack came from the forested shoreline opposite Johnsonville as the Tennessee River was too high for him to attempt a crossing aimed at striking the Federals by land.

So, Forest settled for a bombardment of the Johnsonville with the aim being the achievement of disorder and destruction at this critical supply center.

What Forest could not have predicted was how poorly his Union opponents would react to his bombardment.

Faced by a surprise Confederate artillery assault, the Federal commanders at Johnsonville prematurely ordered the burning of ships, supplies, barges, and equipment even though it is doubtful Forest could ever have directly attacked them with his infantry and cavalry.

The end result of this self-immolation was the loss of millions of dollars of Union supplies and equipment. When Federal gunboats attempted to counterattack, Forest badly damaged the Union flotilla. When Forest withdrew, he had suffered virtually no casualties and had inflicted significant material destruction upon his opponents.

After Forest’ attack, the Johnsonville depot was repaired but really became an afterthought. In only five months the war was essentially over as the armies of Lee and Johnston had surrendered. Interestingly, Johnsonville remained a small town even after the withdrawal of Federal forces.

Prone to flooding, Johnsonville continued as a hamlet until the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was implemented during President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. In 1944, the damming of the Tennessee River resulted in the creation of Kentucky Lake and the inundation of the town of Johnsonville.

All that remains of this Federal supply center are some fortifications placed on high ground near the docks.

Johnsonville State Historic Park near New Johnsonville, Tennessee, has been established in the area near the original depot. With thousands of acres of recreational land and water, hiking trails, a visitor center that commemorates the Civil War history of the region, and an African American cemetery from the era, the park is a significant attraction.

Fortunately, the park and the scholarly efforts of Jerry T. Wooten in this fine book help to commemorate the efforts of Union and Confederate supporters that clashed at Johnsonville.

Union logistical efforts were at the heart of the Federal victory in the Civil War. Utilizing railroads to transport troops, supplies, and ordnance with relative ease were vital capacities that made the Union war effort successful.

Johnsonville was but one of the supply hubs the Union armies used to maintain their operations. Built at a rather late stage in the war, Johnsonville was a critical support for General Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, as well as other western theater Federal operations.

Destroyed by General Forest and shoddy Federal leadership, Johnsonville ended its essential function in a fiery way.

By presenting the story of the Johnsonville depot, its construction, primary purposes, and its destruction, Jerry T. Wooten has offered Civil War enthusiasts a slice of history they can savor.

This is a well written, thoroughly researched, amply illustrated, and engaging story.

Johnsonville no longer exists but the author of this fine book has done well to remember it and detail the amazing story that its history was.

Title: Johnsonville: Union Supply Operations on the Tennessee River and

The Battle of Johnsonville, November 4-5, 1864

Author: Jerry T. Wooten

Publisher: Savas Beatie

Pages: 205

Price: $29.95

Soft Cover