Saturday, June 7, 2008

Wehner: "The 11th Wisconsin in the Civil War: A Regimental History"

[The 11th Wisconsin in the Civil War: A Regimental History by Christopher C. Wehner (McFarland 800-253-2187, 2008). 7x10 Hardcover - library binding, maps, photos, notes, bibliography, appendices w/ unit roster, index. Pages main/total: 176/248 ISBN: 978-0-7864-3210-3 $45 ]

Composed of farm boys from the south central part of the state, the 11th Wisconsin spent the majority of its Civil War term of service in the Mississippi Valley, with additional stops in Texas and Alabama. Its first assignment was guarding rails in Missouri. Soon the unit headed into northeast Arkansas, where the Badgers experienced their first significant combat near the Cache River. After serving in the Vicksburg campaign with Grant's army, the Wisconsin men were once again detailed for garrison and railroad guard duty, this time in SE Louisiana. A brief stint along the Texas barrier islands broke up the monotony before a return to Louisiana. In its final active campaign, the 11th participated in the capture of Mobile, losing heavily in the assault on Ft. Blakely.

With The 11th Wisconsin in the Civil War, first-time Civil War author Christopher C. Wehner ably chronicles the volunteer infantry unit's wartime career, from initial muster through post-war demobilization. Utilizing a satisfying range of source materials, including an exceptional cache of surviving letters from a number of officers and men, the author was able to piece together a rich picture of army life as experienced by this regiment of westerners. These letters provide not only personal insights into military and home front concerns, but lend continuity to the narrative. Wehner writes well, especially in his battle descriptions, integrating first person accounts into his narrative with both well chosen block quotes and a skillful weaving of short excerpts into the main text.

Delving into more obscure corners of the Civil War is one of the book's highlights. For instance, Wehner's research into the fight at Cache River in NE Arkansas led to the formulation of an original interpretation of events, and a rejection of some of the conclusions of previous historians. He also uncovered evidence of significant corruption in the cotton trade amongst officers from General Samuel R. Curtis's command.

The volume's content is well presented. Numerous photographs and maps (both original and archival reproductions) were inserted throughout the text, and the book itself is bound in durable green cloth. Additional information can be found in the appendices, to include a unit member occupation table, muster site data, and a detailed roster that will be of use to researchers.

As a first effort or at any level of publishing experience, The 11th Wisconsin in the Civil War is a fine regimental history, thoughtfully constructed and backed by solid research. Histories of units with significant service in the Trans-Mississippi theater remain relatively rare, and Wehner's addressing of this issue adds a further layer of value to his work. Recommended.

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