Friday, November 22, 2013

Studying brigade histories

In the past couple of weeks, I have read Waters and Edmonds' history of the Florida brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia (A Small But Spartan Band) and James I. Robertson's The Stonewall Brigade. I must say that I found both of these books a little "light" in the research department. Neither book had any discussion of how a brigade functioned, of staff officers, or of armament. I understand that Confederate records can be sparse, but they are not that sparse. Last night, I started reading Hess's Lee's Tar Heels, a book I have owned a while, but don't recall ever reading it. I was impressed by what Hess wrote in the introduction:

"A unit history is a unique part of Civil War historiography... The ideal unit history should be complete and definitive, covering all aspects of its subject. Thus it is more than a mere recounting of that units battles; it should also describe the mobilization of manpower, the organization of the units, their acclimation to camp life, their initial combat experience, and the changing nature of the men's attitudes towards the war and the cause they fought to uphold. Ties to the home front, food, medical care, logistical support, political attitudes, social background, postwar life experiences, and many other topics ought to be covered as far as the available sources will allow."

In both of the regimentals that I have written, I've striven hard to make sure every one of those little pieces of the puzzle is portrayed within the text. I would add to Hess's list this: good maps and plentiful war-time images of the soldiers who fought in those regiments/brigades. In the books I wrote on the 37th NCT and 58th NCT, I went as far to include photographs of relics as well: flags carried, uniforms worn, gear carried, and in the case of the 37th NCT, their general and special order books. Added to this, post-war veteran reunion images, monuments the veterans helped erect, and an occasional tombstone of interest. If space allows, modern photos of places the regiment fought might be good. I did not do this in the 37th NCT book, but I added a photo or two of places in the 58th NCT book.

Up front, I can go ahead and say that there will not be any modern battlefield photos in the Branch-Lane book. I should have a surplus of war-time images from which to choose.

Since many people mention to me their own desires to write a regimental history from time to time, I think I will do a series of posts on "Unpacking your regimental toolbox." It should be a good exercise as I work on the Branch-Lane project.

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