Sunday, January 18, 2015

Swain: "THE BLOODY 7TH"

[The Bloody 7th by Glen Allan Swain, Jr. (Broadfoot, 2014). Cloths, maps, photos, footnotes, roster, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:416/719. ISBN:978-1-56837-433-8 $45]

Though brothers in spirit with H.E. Howard's Virginia Regimental Histories Series, it's fairly safe to say that the typical volume from The South Carolina Regimental-Roster Set is better researched, far better stocked with maps and photographs, and contains a far deeper and richer unit history than the average Old Dominion counterpart. This is certainly the case with Glen Allan Swain's The Bloody 7th.

Taking both foot and rail travel into account, it becomes difficult to think of a regiment that logged more miles during the Civil War than the 7th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry. The 10 original companies that formed the 7th South Carolina hailed from the two far western districts of Abbeville and Edgefield. Dispatched to the Manassas front, the regiment occupied an advanced position at Fairfax Court House and was positioned in the Confederate center during the Battle of First Bull Run. The following year, the South Carolinians confronted McClellan's army on the Virginia Peninsula as a part of Kershaw's Brigade yet it would be the middle of the Seven Days (at the Battle of Savage Station) before a member of the regiment would lose his life in combat. Deployed only in a supporting position at Malvern Hill and missing 2nd Bull Run, the unit transformed into the "Bloody" Seventh on September 13, 1862 atop Maryland Heights. Moving from Harpers Ferry to the Sharpsburg front, the regiment fought over ground south of the Dunker Church during the Antietam battle. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, the 7th was in reserve behind the left rear of the Stone Wall, offering overhead supporting fire from the top of Marye's Heights. In 1863, the South Carolinians distinguished themselves during the Chancellorsville Campaign at Salem Church. Passing through the Rose Farm on Gettysburg's 2nd Day, the regiment helped crush Sickle's salient opposite the Confederate right flank.

Sent west with Longstreet and the rest of I Corps in September, Kershaw's brigade would see action at Chickamauga and Knoxville before returning to Virginia in the spring of 1864 to participate in the Overland Campaign, figuring prominently in the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, and Cold Harbor fighting. On June 18, they helped save Petersburg but failed to dislodge Union forces at Deep Bottom the following month. In August, the 7th hit the road again, joining Jubal Early's command in the Shenandoah. At the unsuccessful conclusion of that campaign, they settled into winter quarters at the Richmond front before again hitting the road, this time home to South Carolina to oppose Sherman's advance north. The 7th would fight at both Averasboro and Bentonville before surrendering. It was a remarkable journey across multiple eastern and western theater fronts and, with almost 500 men (evenly divided between combat and disease) losing their lives during the conflict, a bloody trail indeed. The regiment's role in all of these events is discussed in great detail in The Bloody 7th.

With little emphasis on home front connections and no demographic analysis of the unit's social makeup, The Bloody 7th does not follow in the footsteps of the most recent trends in unit history scholarship. Instead, the over 400 page narrative is overwhelmingly focused on the campaign and battle experiences of the men. The mass of descriptive detail is impressive, not overwhelming but far greater than that found inside the typical Civil War regimental study. In doing so, the author, importantly, never loses sight of how the specific actions of the 7th fit into the overall flow and historical significance of each battle.

Bibliography and notes are heavily weighted toward primary sources. During his research, Swain uncovered a wealth of published and unpublished first-hand accounts written by individuals of all ranks. Skillfully incorporated into the narrative, this material offers readers a lively and very informative running commentary on people, places, and events associated with the regiment and its military service. Also helpful throughout are select observations from D. Augustus Dickert. While Dickert personally served in the 3rd South Carolina, his classic History of Kershaw's Brigade remains an invaluable resource for those researching the 7th.

The book's maps, all original creations of popular cartographer George Skoch, are great in number and coverage. They more than adequately orient the reader to the 7th's place on its many fields of battle. Also worthy of note are the numerous photographs of officers and men that Swain was able to track down and include in the volume. The most obvious source of complaint with the book is the editing. The main problem lies not with serial factual missteps but rather the alarming frequency of all manner of typographical errors.

A major feature of the series as a whole, of course, is the roster. At almost 270 pages in length, Swain's massive roster of the 7th is arranged alphabetically and composed of substantial CSR and pension record data for each individual. In a novel move, the author also attached a photograph of the soldier's signature when available. Why Swain did this is not explained (perhaps he felt it added a personal touch). In providing both the first in-depth military history of the 7th South Carolina as well as a valuable research tool in the form of an expansive roster, The Bloody 7th achieves its content goals in memorable fashion, the unit history in particular surpassing expectations.

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