[ The 21st North Carolina Infantry: A Civil War History, With a Roster of Officers by Lee W. Sherrill, Jr. (McFarland, 2015). Softcover, 16 maps, photos, officer roster, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:455/535. ISBN:978-0-7864-7626-8 $45 ]
Recruited from the Piedmont region of the state, the progenitor of the 21st was the 12-month 11th North Carolina, which fought at First Bull Run with Bonham's brigade. During the grand reorganization of the Confederate army in 1862 the unit was redesignated the 21st regiment and it would fight on in that capacity to the Army of Northern Virginia's end at Appomattox. Sherrill briefly covers the recruitment and training periods as well as the officer selection turmoil that plagued so many regiments. The 21st's leadership factionalism, however, went on far longer than most and one marvels at the fighting prowess and unit cohesion demonstrated by the regiment on so many battlefields with so much uncertainty at the top. That said, the regiment was gifted with more than one good colonel, as both William Kirkland and Robert Hoke would perform well and go on to higher commands.
Unlike many other recent regimental studies (especially those authored by professional historians), Sherrill's book does not concern itself with any kind of complex demographic study of the men nor does it directly engage many of the common themes of modern Civil War unit scholarship (e.g. why the men enlisted, their wartime connections to the home front, what happened when they returned home, etc.). Instead, Sherrill sets out to create a definitive military biography of the regiment, one that addresses in equal measure the camp, march, and battlefield experiences of the men. With its uncommonly meticulous handling of the 21st's tragic exposures to the great epidemics of disease that raged through Confederate camps and field hospitals during the many months of inactivity following the victory at First Bull Run, the book's sweeping ambitions are apparent from the start.
The series of battle chapters comprise the heart of The 21st North Carolina Infantry. Sherrill's micro-level accounts of the 21st's actions during the battles that raged across Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and North Carolina between 1861 and 1865 are deep tactical mini-studies. That said, the bigger picture of events, at both the battle and campaign levels, is never lost in the small unit details. In addition to discussing the regiment's role in the many famous engagements fought by the Army of Northern Virginia (among them First Bull Run, Winchester, Cross Keys, Gaines' Mill, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, 2nd Winchester, Gettysburg, many 1864 Shenandoah Campaign battles, and Fort Stedman), the book also covers at great length many comparatively obscure battles involving the 21st, like Batchelor's Creek and other lesser known 1863-64 operations in North Carolina.
Accompanying these battle narratives is an excellent set of maps. In addition to being nearly full-page sized, the terrain and battle line representations (with the 21st always specifically referenced) are exemplary. A large collection of photographs is also included. The book's broad and deep bibliography (with its extensive collection of primary source materials of all types) and expansive endnotes attest to the exhaustive research that went into crafting the narrative. In terms of drawbacks, the book's size dimensions and weight are a bit too unwieldy for the paperback format. There are a few typos here and there and a full unit roster, a staple of modern regimental studies, is missing. On the other hand, the officer and staff biographical and service roster that is provided will serve as a useful reference tool.
As a military campaign themed regimental history, Lee Sherrill's The 21st North Carolina Infantry cannot be recommended highly enough. In a crowded genre, this title very much stands apart in the areas of research, content and presentation. Certainly readers primarily interested in Old North State soldiers and units that fought for the Confederacy will be overjoyed upon viewing Sherrill's handiwork.