Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Caughey & Jones: "THE 6TH UNITED STATES CAVALRY IN THE CIVIL WAR: A History and Roster"

[The 6th United States Cavalry in the Civil War: A History and Roster by Donald C. Caughey and Jimmy J. Jones (McFarland 800-253-2187, 2013). Softcover, maps, photos, roster, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:144/287. ISBN:978-0-7864-6835-5 $39.95]

Don Caughey and Jimmy Jones's The 6th United States Cavalry in the Civil War is the first history of this venerable unit devoted solely to it's Civil War origins and service. At less than 150 pages of narrative, the book is short in length but nonetheless covers well the basics of what one expects to find in a modern regimental roster study. A pair of chapters are devoted to its officer selection, organization, and training. Many of the 6th's regimental and company level leaders would go on to prominent roles in the war. They include David Hunter, William Emory, August Kautz, David M. Gregg, John I. Gregg, Charles R. Lowell, John K. Mizner, and W.W. Averell, an impressive list.

The following chapters summarize the regiment's participation in a number of eastern theater campaigns with the Army of the Potomac from the Peninsula to Appomattox. The 6th experienced its first taste of combat near Williamsburg in May 1862. After much marching and skirmishing during the Maryland Campaign, the unit spent the winter picketing the Rappahannock crossings. Major 1863 events in the career of the 6th include permanent assignment to the celebrated Reserve Brigade, Stoneman's Raid, and the Gettysburg Campaign. It is the regiment's prominence at Brandy Station and the Battle of Fairfield that receive the most detailed attention in the book. The latter resulted in a bit of a disaster, as the 6th attempted to capture a large Confederate supply train and was pounced upon by a full brigade of Confederate cavalry, suffering heavy casualties in the process. Maps of both tactical and regional varieties are located throughout, with the ones created by Steven Stanley for Beverly Ford and Fairfield of particular helpfulness. While the men proved to be stout, reliable fighters, the skirmishes and battles that year rendered the regiment so depleted in the numbers that it had to be assigned to headquarters escort duty. Replacements would arrive, but the 6th remained badly understrength for the rest of the war. The narrative section of the book concludes with two chapters briefly summarizing the regiment's experiences with Sheridan's Cavalry Corps over the war's final year.

While the above might give the impression that the 6th's Civil War was not especially arduous, the authors effectively argue that when "nothing" was going on in terms of grand campaigns, the cavalry was always on the move picketing, scouting, and skirmishing, mundane but vital duties that together resulted in a constant stream of casualties and other attritional losses in men, horses, and equipment. The writing is well researched, liberally enhanced with participant accounts discovered in archives or gleaned from published primary source materials.

One of the greatest treasures to be found in the book is the detailed roster spanning over 100 pages. While there's little in the way of demographic analysis involved, on an individual level a wealth of information for researchers and genealogists is provided, far more than the typical published roster. Other appendices list the 6th's engagements (and which companies participated in each), regimental trivia, and key appointments at the officer and NCO levels.

The 6th U.S. Cavalry [originally the 3rd U.S. Cavalry, but renumbered in deference to the older 1st and 2nd Dragoons, 1st and 2nd Cavalry, and the Mounted Infantry regiment] was the only regular army mounted regiment created during the Civil War and the work of Caughey and Jones comprises a fitting and long overdue record of its service and register of its members. Regimental level studies of this type remain scarce, so hopefully The 6th United States Cavalry in the Civil War will also spark a wider interest in documenting the 1861-65 history of the regular army and those that fought in its ranks.

3 comments:

  1. AnonymousMay 21, 2013

    How is the editing? McFarland books often leave much to be desired in that regard.
    Will Hickox

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I read it in fits and starts so the editing quality isn't fresh in my mind, but I don't recall any big problems.

      Delete
  2. AnonymousJune 20, 2013

    One of the authors, Jimmy Jones, is a modern cavalryman who was assigned to 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment in Afghanistan. I remember him working on the book in his off time. Jimmy is a good officer who is passionate about history.

    ReplyDelete

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