Friday, March 3, 2006

Review: "Spartan Band: Burnett’s 13th Texas Cavalry in the Civil War"

(Reprinted with the permission of North and South Magazine, originally appeared in vol. 8 #7, pg. 84 , reviewed by Andrew Wagenhoffer)

Spartan Band: Burnett’s 13th Texas Cavalry in the Civil War, by Thomas Reid. (Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 2005). Pp. 220, $29.95, Hardback, photos, 8 maps, notes, rosters, appendices. ISBN 1-57441-189-6)

In recent years, students of the Trans-Mississippi theater of the Civil War have been treated with several fine Texas unit histories. The best known of these is probably Richard Lowe’s excellent book Walker’s Texas Division, C.S.A: Greyhounds of the Trans-Mississippi. This outfit, commanded during most of its active history by John G. Walker, marched and fought all over southern Arkansas and western Louisiana from 1862 to 1865 before ending up back in Texas at war’s end. The “greyhounds” sobriquet was a result of the incredible marching distances covered by the division during the war. The 13th Texas Cavalry, organized by Mexican War veteran John H. Burnett, was one of the greyhound regiments and participated in all of the division’s major campaigns and movements.

Spartan Band is a well-researched and engagingly written social and political history of the 13th Texas Cavalry regiment. In his discussion of the unit’s organization, author Thomas Reid surveys in detail the demographics of the regiment and confirms Lowe’s findings. Following assembly and training, the Texas cavalrymen were sent to Arkansas where they were promptly dismounted, forcing the men to fight on foot for the rest of the war. One very interesting subject that Reid covers is the effect of the Conscription Act on units already organized. The legislation had a profoundly negative impact on the 13th Texas, which lost over one-fourth of its strength, including many men with military experience.

Up until its operations against Federal conclaves west of the Mississippi during the Vicksburg Campaign, the regiment’s service was largely confined to interminable and seemingly pointless marching and countermarching across the theater. Exhaustion and constant exposure in the wet woods and swamps of Arkansas and Louisiana took a terrible toll on the Texans’s health. Over the length of its service, disease killed almost ten times as many men in the 13th as enemy bullets did.

Although one participant commented that Walker’s Texas division marched more and fought less than any other Confederate division, the Texans did see significant action at the battles of Mansfield, Pleasant Hill and Jenkins’s Ferry during the 1864 Red River Campaign. In the book, the role of the 13th Texas in these battles is portrayed adequately enough for most readers, but some may find the level of tactical detail in the maps and text to be wanting in places. Overall though, Spartan Band is a very solid regimental history that interested parties of all stripes will find well worth reading.

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