[A Small but Spartan Band: The Florida Brigade in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia by Zack C. Waters and James C. Edmonds (University of Alabama Press, 2010). Hardcover, 9 maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 212/272. ISBN: 978-0-8173-1679-5 $29.95]
With less than a dozen books devoted to Florida units and their military exploits, that particular category remains underexplored in the modern historiography. Instead, much of the literature is devoted to the state's role as the breadbasket of the Confederacy. Fortunately, Zack Waters and James Edmonds have rescued the officers and men of the eastern theater's Florida Brigade from obscurity with their book A Small But Spartan Band. As Robert K. Krick mentions in the Foreword (and he would know), primary source material written by members of Confederate units with isolated homelands is scarce, and Florida particularly so. Nevertheless, he praises the authors for discovering as much manuscript material as they did, scattered far and wide. Florida had a pre-war population composed of only 15,000 men of military age so paucity of units is one reason for their relative obscurity, but another is that Florida regiments lacked a widely recognized and defining moment in an important battle. Worse, they often had a reputation, deserved or not, for unsteadiness. However, as Waters and Edmonds demonstrate, the units of the Florida Brigade (at its core, the 2nd, 5th, and 8th Florida regiments) performed much like any other, with good days and bad.
The brigade history begins with an organizational summary of the 2nd Florida, which participated in the battles of Williamsburg, Seven Pines, and the Seven Days, suffering very heavy casualties along the way. It was joined by the 5th and 8th regiments in August of 1862. These men joined their fellow "Flowers" only to suffer terrible casualties at Antietam. The brigade's leadership was decimated as well, a situation that seemed to plague the Floridian units throughout the war [to what degree the scale of their command losses is unusually high is difficult to tell].
The authors go on to describe the movements and battles of the Florida Brigade from Fredericksburg to the end of their war at Appomattox. Although a group surrender that occurred on the streets of the town was comparatively small, Fredericksburg was a bit of a blow to the men's prestige, but the already skeleton-sized brigade performed well at Gettysburg, especially in the attack on the Union center on Day 2. Waters and Edmonds devote three full chapters to the Gettysburg campaign, followed by an additional one discussing the newspaper war that erupted in the aftermath of the defeat, in which the Floridians were unfairly maligned. This brings to mind another handicap that had to be borne by Florida troops, the lack of prominent newspaper support and coverage in comparison to other states like Virginia and South Carolina. During the latter stages of the Petersburg Campaign, a high desertion rate also led critics to mock their loyalty.
The leadership of the brigade is also fully examined, especially regimental and brigade commanders Edward Perry, David Lang, and Joseph Finegan. While Perry and Lang are the officers most identified with the brigade, Finegan brought up from Florida in May 1864 much needed reinforcements in the form of several battalions, veterans of Olustee (Ocean Pond). A final chapter looks at the post-war careers of many of the men mentioned in the text, with an interesting profile of Lincoln conspirator and attempted assassin Lewis Powell, a onetime member of Company I, 2nd Florida.
The text is supported by eight maps, depicting the position(s) of the brigade and its regiments during important battles. Another traces the county of origin of each company. Combining unimpeachable research with a thoughtful and well constructed narrative, A Small But Spartan Band is a highly recommended brigade history of a much understudied group of men. Now someone needs to tackle the Floridians that served in the Army of Tennessee.