Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Thoughts on "All For the Regiment"

Yeah, I know this is hardly timely, but repeated mention of his book All for the Regiment: The Army of the Ohio, 1861-1862 in Civil War Talk Radio interviews with various authors finally convinced me to quit pushing my reading of Gerald Prokopowicz's book off down the line and get to it. The single sentence version of the book's main theme, as related by GP himself, has never appealed to me much, but it intrigued me enough to want to discover if the fully fleshed out version spoke to me more forcefully. I guess for me the answer is yes and no.

For those not familiar with it, All for the Regiment is derived from Prokopowicz's dissertation. Beyond being a straightforward history of the organization and campaigns of the first Army of the Ohio, the author seeks to construct a case for the notion that it was the immensely (unusually?) strong bonds within the individual regiments that made Civil War armies impossible to destroy. According to this idea, common social identity, efficiency, and coordination in Civil War armies rapidly disappears up the chain of command. Thus, we see massive bleeding at the regimental level, but a complete inability to finish the blow against the enemy army with a properly organized coup de grace managed from above. This isn't an entirely new idea and it isn't the whole of what the author contends, but the degree of primacy he gives the notion of social organization over purely military factors is a strong attempt at a fresh interpretation. The fact that he searched deeply for reasons beyond simple questions of weapons and tactics is to be lauded.

In some ways, I am not sure using an army with such a short lifespan was the best choice for an examination of a thesis with dimensions by no means limited to the early war period. It's difficult to make the generalized point of a lack of brigade, division, and corps identity with a study that ends in the fall of 1862, as it would be expected that those bonds would necessarily take more time to develop within ever expanding armies created from scratch.

From my reading, it's uncertain if Prokopowicz is arguing for the uniqueness to Civil War armies of these regimental bonds and consequent battlefield esprit de corps. I was pleased to see that he mentioned that the idea of the "decisive battle" itself is controversial (he referenced Russell Weigley's The Age of Battles: The Quest for Decisive Warfare from Breitenfeld to Waterloo), but I would liked to have seen some comparison with the small unit organization of 18th and 19th century European armies to determine if any similar social patterns existed in those organizations.

If all this makes it seem like I didn't like the book much, that wouldn't be true. Providing us with the first modern history of the Army of the Ohio is a worthy contribution in and of itself. While one can argue all day long about the degree of importance to be attached to All For The Regiment's main theme of the battlefield consequences of exclusive regimental loyalty, it would certainly be wrong to dismiss it.

2 comments:

  1. "repeated mention of his book"

    The virtues of marketing...

    Thanks for a thoughtful and perceptive review.

    Gerry Prokopowicz

    ReplyDelete
  2. It worked!

    Thanks for visiting.

    Drew

    ReplyDelete

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