Sunday, March 25, 2007

Martin: "A History of the 4th Wisconsin Infantry and Cavalry"

[A History of the 4th Wisconsin Infantry and Cavalry in the American Civil War by Michael J. Martin. (Savas Beatie, 2006) 525 pages, Hardback, photos, maps, rosters, appendices.]

The 4th Wisconsin is a unit interesting on a number of levels. According to the Foreword, no full regimental history of a cavalry regiment from the state existed prior to this one. The 4th was also one of the relatively unusual units that started its service as infantry then was converted to cavalry mid-war. In terms of Wisconsin Civil War regiments, readers might be surprised to learn that, although the 4th regiment did not fight in any battles that would be deemed large by conventional standards, only the total number of deaths suffered by the Iron Brigade's 7th infantry exceeded its own.

However, for me, the most intriguing aspect of this regiment's service is its theater of operations. This is no run of the mill history of a Bull Run to Appomattox term of service in the East. The 4th Wisconsin Infantry/Cavalry participated in many raids and campaigns throughout the Gulf region that remain little known or written about. The unit began its service in Maryland, guarding the railroads there and taking part in the 1861 Eastern Shore campaign. From there, the Badgers joined Ben Butler's New Orleans expedition. After a reserve role in the August 5, 1862 Battle of Baton Rouge, the 4th found itself transformed into mounted infantry for the 1863 Bayou Teche campaign. Later in the year, the regiment saw its heaviest combat and greatest loss during the doomed assaults on the fortifications at Port Hudson.

Once fully mounted and officially designated as cavalry, the regiment then spent the next year and a half picketing and patrolling the approaches to Baton Rouge. From late 1864 onward, three extensive cavalry raids were undertaken--the Liberty-Brookhaven Raid in November, John W. Davidson's West Pascagoula Raid, and finally Benjamin Grierson's march hundreds of miles through Alabama and Mississippi in the closing moments of the war. The book's extensive coverage of these obscure, rarely studied raids/campaigns is one of its finest points. The 4th Wisconsin Cavalry ended its service in May 1866, having had the disagreeable post-war duty of patrolling hundreds of miles of Texas-Mexico borderland. A History of the 4th Wisconsin relates these military operations at a level of detail that greatly exceeds that put forth by the average regimental history. It rather approaches more of what we might see from specialized works.

Author Michael Martin writes quite well, in a lively manner within a skillfully organized narrative. Even the rather mundane aspects of the regiment's service were rendered involving at some level. The visual elements of A History of the 4th Wisconsin are pleasing as well. Dozens of period photographs are interspersed throughout the text. Although a few more were needed, the maps are adequately detailed and numerous enough to cover almost all of the regiment's significant movements and campaigns. However, a minor complaint could be made of the number of typos that crept into the final text.

Like all good modern regimentals, this one contains a detailed unit roster and casualty lists. It doesn't include the demographic analysis often found in recent works in the genre, but if this is viewed as a weakness, it is easily outweighed by the book's many strengths. Other appendices address subjects such as interments, reunion attendants, and a roster of Earl's Scouts. With its center of operations at Natchez, Earl's Scouts became a very effective information gathering unit. Many members were gleaned from the 4th Wisconsin (including Earl himself), and for the book's final chapter, the author wrote an impressive 50 page history of the Scouts.

Overall, this fascinating study is a fine example of scholarship, and a more than worthy contribution to the literature. Anyone wanting to learn more about an unusual unit serving in a rarely studied theater of operations will revel in the details provided by Michael Martin's regimental history of the 4th Wisconsin Infantry/Cavalry.

(Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Tara at Casemate Publishers)


  1. Drew:

    Thanks so much for the very complimentary review of my book. It's nice to see this relatively unknown group of Badgers finally get the notoriety that they deserve. I'd like to once again thank the publisher, Ted Savas, and all the historians that helped me put together the story of this fine regiment.

    Mike Martin

    1. Hello this book is excellent my great great grandpa Oliver Lavoy was part of that unit. To bad the book in hard cover is super expensive to obtain check amazon. I really wish they could reprint this book also would like to see a big producer turn this into a film. Jon Johnvin


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