Monday, September 7, 2015

Cooper: "THE BRAVE MEN OF COMPANY A : The Forty-First Ohio Volunteer Infantry"

[The Brave Men of Company A: The Forty-First Ohio Volunteer Infantry by Edward S. Cooper (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2015). Hardcover, notes, bibliography, index. 215 pp. ISBN:978-1-61147-767-2. $70]

In sheer numbers published, the Civil War company history lags far behind both regimental and brigade studies. However, with the company being the unit most intimately associated with specific counties and towns, the increased scholarly attention paid to the local dimensions of Civil War history may alter this pattern. The men of Company A of the 41st Ohio Volunteer Infantry hailed from three Buckeye counties (Cuyahoga, Portage, and Trumbull) and their story is the subject of Edward Cooper’s The Brave Men of Company A.

With West Pointer William B. Hazen heading the regiment and Emerson Opdycke as First Lieutenant of Company A, the men were fortunate to be led by two future stars of the Union Army. After the incompetent and inefficient officers were weeded out, it wasn’t long before the regiment was well trained and ready for operations in the field.

At the beginning of its service, Company A and the 41st pulled anti-guerrilla duty along the Ohio River front in western Virginia. They also fought at Shiloh, Stones River, and Chickamauga. As part of Hazen’s brigade, they helped defend the famous Round Forest position at Stones River, repelling Confederate frontal attacks throughout the first day of battle. After the Stones River fighting ended members of the company helped erect the first Civil War battlefield monument there.

During the 1863 Chattanooga siege the men of Company A helped seize Brown’s Ferry, their success there widening the supply line to the beleaguered Union garrison. During the battle that finally broke the siege, the Ohioans advanced in the center to Orchard Knob and participated in the mass frontal assault that captured Missionary Ridge and forced the Confederate army to retreat into Georgia. In anticipation of the 1864 expiration of their three-year volunteer enlistments, the entire company took advantage of furlough and financial incentives and reenlisted.

During the ensuing Atlanta Campaign the regiment suffered terrible losses at the Pickett’s Mill debacle. The 41st's last significant action occurred during the Battle of Nashville when Company A and their comrades successfully assaulted Overton Hill. Though they nearly mutinied at the prospect of being transferred to the U.S.-Mexican border, the men would sit out the rest of the war in Texas before returning home to resume their civilian lives.

The fact that the company was not an independent maneuver element on the mid-19th century linear battlefield may partly explain the general author preference for regimental studies over company histories. On the other hand, though the typical Civil War army company occupied a rigid place within the regimental line of battle, skirmish companies like A could have a bit more freedom of movement and Cooper’s book provides more than enough distinguishing actions in camp, on the march, and during battle to make the company-level military history exercise worthwhile reading.

While the amount of manuscript material consulted by the author isn’t especially prodigious there are sufficient firsthand sources available to offer multiple perspectives from company and regimental officers and men. Their insights include useful information on campaigns and battles fought as well as other things related to army service like command politics, camp life, punishments, treatment of civilians, and health issues.

Supplementing the main text are a number of capsule biographies and a list of the company dead. In terms of negatives there are more than a few typos in the book and no maps, photographs or illustrations of any kind. The presentation overall is unusually spare. The absence of a company roster, a common feature in books of this type, is similarly unfortunate. The high price might keep The Brave Men of Company A out of most personal collections but the positive features of the study make it worthy of acquisition by institutions and reference libraries.

[reproduced here in re-edited format from my orig. version published in On Point: The Journal of Army History]

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