Thursday, February 5, 2015

Smith: "THE 2ND MAINE CAVALRY IN THE CIVIL WAR: A History and Roster"

[The 2nd Maine Cavalry in the Civil War: A History and Roster by Ned Smith (McFarland 800-253-2187, 2014). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, roster, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:157/238. ISBN:978-0-7864-7968-9 $39.95]

Ned Smith is the pied piper of obscure short-timer Maine Civil War units that served in the Department of the Gulf during the latter part of the conflict. In 2010 he published a roster history of the 22nd Maine (a nine-month infantry regiment) and he makes the move to the mounted arm with 2014's The 2nd Maine Cavalry in the Civil War: A History and Roster.

Its twelve companies raised during the fall of 1863 and formally mustered into federal service in January 1864, the 2nd Maine Cavalry trained in its home state during the winter months before boarding sea transports destined for New Orleans in March. Like so many other Civil War cavalry units, the companies and battalions of the 2nd often found themselves widely separated.

A battalion under Major Andrew Spurling fought well during the closing moments of the disastrous 1864 Red River Campaign, earning praise for their efforts. Unfortunately, this recognition also sowed seeds of discontent within the regiment, with the Red River veteran officers believing their distinguished service privileged them for regimental honors and promotions. Colonel Ephraim Woodman would have to contend with disgruntled field and line officers the rest of the war. Dissension among the officers, a major theme of Smith's study, was not a rare occurrence in Civil War regiments and perhaps this form of trouble was magnified for late war units like the 2nd Maine. Officers could see the end of the war on the horizon going in and might understandably be impatient in vying for public notice and promotion.

During the summer of 1864, the 2nd operated in the LaFourche District west of New Orleans for a brief period before being transferred to Fort Barrancas near Pensacola in August. With Mobile Bay just to the west and important Confederate rail connections a short distance to the north, the Pensacola enclave occupied an important strategic position. In a single day's ride, Union cavalry could reach several key enemy positions. Smith documents a number of skirmishes, raids, and other Alabama and West Florida operations that would take advantage of this. In addition to participating in the September 27, 1864 Battle of Marianna, the 2nd Maine frequently struck at the Mobile & Great Northern and Alabama & Florida railroads, which intersected at Pollard, Alabama.

The regiment continued to raid the railroads through the early months of 1865 and also scouted the eastern approaches to Mobile and its surrounding forts during the final campaign to capture the Confederate port city. At the war's close, a portion of the 2nd garrisoned Montgomery and the entire unit was mustered out in December 1865 at Barrancas.

The book's four appendices are valuable reference tools. The roster was compiled from the Maine Adjutant General's Reports and organized by company. Disease hit the men hard, with 334 men dying from non-combat causes during two years of service and only 10 men killed in action. An appendix compares disease death tolls for Maine units that fought in the Gulf to those stationed elsewhere, the result being a grim illustration of the consequences of operating in unhealthy Deep South settings. Other appendices contain court-martial records, a register of those 2nd Maine troopers captured and sent to Andersonville prison, and a list of regimental officers mustered out in Florida.

The bibliography is limited in both number and variety of research materials consulted, with references to the O.R, other official government documents, and a small number of secondary works predominating. While the study lacks home front connections and the wide breadth of rank perspectives present in many other modern Civil War unit histories, it does offer useful insights into the leadership and operations of a little known regiment and its close association with late period military events in Florida and Alabama not already thoroughly covered in the literature.

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