Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Faller: "THE INDIANA JACKASS REGIMENT IN THE CIVIL WAR: A History of the 21st Infantry / 1st Heavy Artillery Regiment, with a Roster"

[ The Indiana Jackass Regiment in the Civil War: A History of the 21st Infantry / 1st Heavy Artillery Regiment, with a Roster by Phillip E. Faller (McFarland 800-253-2187, 2013). Softcover, 23 maps, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:272/375. ISBN:978-0-7864-7046-4 $45]

Its formation authorized by the Indiana legislature in June 1861, the 21st Indiana Volunteer Infantry organized and trained at camps Morton and Sullivan under the command of Colonel James W. McMillan. Sent to Baltimore, the men saw their first "action" clearing Virginia's Eastern Shore. Ordered in March 1862 to embark for Ship Island as part of Benjamin Butler's New Orleans expedition, the Hoosiers did not stay in the east long. After spending a time manning the Crescent City defenses and conducting operations in the swamps opposite, the 21st was shipped north to occupied Baton Rouge, where they played an important role in repulsing the August 5, 1862 Confederate assault on the Louisiana capital city. After the battle, they returned to the LaFourche District.

In an unusual turn of events, the entire regiment was converted to heavy artillery in February 1863. Their first major operation as the newly designated 1st Indiana Heavy Artillery was against Fort Bisland during Nathaniel Banks's Bayou Teche Campaign. In May, most of the 1st was sent to Port Hudson (Company F was left behind in the LaFourche), where the companies were parceled out among the besieging batteries. They served there for the duration of the long, bloody siege. Later, a detachment accompanied Banks's Red River expedition. After reorganization subsequent to the expiration of the original enlistment period, the 1st participated in the closing of Mobile Bay and the later siege and capture of the inner forts protecting the port city of Mobile itself.

Well researched and with an abundantly detailed narrative, Phillip Faller's The Indiana Jackass Regiment in the Civil War is a remarkable regimental history. In addition to providing a fine account of the 21st regiment's place in the Battle of Baton Rouge itself, a very good overview of the entire engagement is provided [deserving of recognition alongside the earlier work of Ed Bearss and Thomas Richey]. The maps for this section are among the best ever created for this battle. Every bit as good are the sections covering the 21st/1st's various periods of service in SW Louisiana. Students of the 1862-63 fighting along the railroad, bayous, bays, and lakes in this hotly contested area will greatly benefit from Faller's research. However, as impressive as all these finely crafted components are, perhaps the most significant historical value resides in the Port Hudson chapters, meticulous depictions of field and siege artillery operations that go far beyond just the actions of the 1st Indiana.

When the subject of Union heavy artillery regiments is raised, the thoughts of most Civil War readers and scholars undoubtedly are directed toward those unfortunate units repurposed from static Washington garrison duty to active service as line infantry with an Army of the Potomac bled white during the 1864 Overland Campaign. Faller deserves credit for not only moving the discussion to the western theater, but also for enhancing the historiography with easily the best unit history of a heavy artillery regiment performing its originally intended branch of service specialization. Supplemental material in the form of detailed order of battle data, lists, and charts rewards the more serious student with a wealth of battery armament, munitions, unit position, and firing range data for Baton Rouge, Bisland, Port Hudson, Spanish Fort, and Fort Blakely. For the Port Hudson siege, the author's research into the artillery used by both sides corrects the historical record in several areas, including battery commander names and gun tube classifications.

Overall, there's not much to complain about beyond the need for another round of copyediting. If one really wants to quibble, the rest of the maps don't match the refined quality of the excellent Battle of Baton Rouge series. But these are only minor reservations that don't detract significantly from what is an exceptionally good unit study. Many audiences will appreciate this book. While the extensive officer biographies common to books of this type are not present here, those interested in Indiana's Civil War soldier perspectives will nevertheless find copious first hand information gleaned from manuscripts and other primary source materials, as well as a detailed roster. As one might guess from the descriptions above, artillery students are in for a real treat. Finally, significant light is shed on the oft neglected Civil War in SW Louisiana. Even those already familiar with the work of Christopher Pena, Donald Frazier, Art Bergeron, and others will find much to consider. To these individuals, and really anyone with a desire to read something truly off the beaten path of Civil War publishing, The Indiana Jackass Regiment in the Civil War is highly recommended.

[I may have missed it, but I don't recall specific mention of the origins of the "Jackass Regiment" moniker, or how the men felt about it. The infantry regiment had a mule-drawn battery of captured guns attached to it, and perhaps the siege guns were largely transported by mule. The men might also have been temporarily mounted on the beasts for a specific mission a la Joe Mower's Jackass Cavalry.]

2 comments:

  1. AnonymousMay 02, 2013

    Since this book deals with lots of subjects of interest to me (live in Baton Rouge, grew up in SW Louisiana), it tempts me. But I've always been a little frightened of what I read about typos in McFarland's books (and, quite frankly, their prices). I may "take the plunge" with this McFarland offering.

    Joel Manuel
    Baton Rouge

    ReplyDelete
  2. AnonymousMay 20, 2013

    Three things:
    1. The name change from having a Jackass Battery to Jackass Regiment takes place in an oblique manner on page 103.
    2. The name acceptability to the men of the regiment is indicated on pages 229 and 230.

    3. I have noticed but one set of typos and they are on page number 331, Table D, Elevation Above Water in Feet, the elevations of 319, 319 and 516 should be 31.9, 31.9 and 51.6.

    (The Author)

    ReplyDelete

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