Monday, September 8, 2008

Pryce, ed. Burden: "VANISHING FOOTPRINTS: The Twenty-Second Iowa Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War"

[Vanishing Footprints: The Twenty-Second Iowa Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War by Samuel D. Pryce and edited by Jeffry C. Burden (The Camp Pope Bookshop, 2008). Softcover, 52 photos, 11 maps, notes, bibliography, index. Pages 256. ISBN 978-1-929919-14-7 $18.95 ]
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Vanishing Footprints
Click on cover for book link
The 22nd Iowa infantry regiment had a distinguished Civil War combat record, with the somewhat unusual distinction of having fought in all three major theaters. Raised in the summer of 1862, the unit began its service in southeast Missouri (like many before, guarding railroads) before joining the Army of the Tennessee for the Vicksburg Campaign. From there, the Iowans took part in the Texas Overland Expedition before being shipped to the Texas coast. Later, five companies were detached for participation in the disastrous 1864 Red River Campaign. Returning to New Orleans, the unit boarded ocean transports headed to the east and more fighting in the Shenandoah Valley at Winchester, Fisher's Hill, and Cedar Creek. The 22nd's service ended with occupation duty first in North Carolina then for a longer period in Georgia.

Wanting to record these events for posterity, unit veteran Samuel D. Pryce penned a rambling regimental history. Stamped with the approval of his comrades in the 22nd Iowa Regimental Association, Pryce's manuscript ran over 800 pages and was never published in his lifetime. Today, Jeffrey Burden has streamlined (to put it mildly) Pryce's hefty tome for publication by Camp Pope as Vanishing Footprints: The Twenty-Second Iowa Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War. It's a notable accomplishment, all the more so for the debulking was done in seamless fashion.

Pryce wrote his regimental history in an informal, conversational style. However, beyond the witty commentary and humorous anecdotes lies a critically observant account of the 22nd's battles and campaigns. Pryce's passages covering the regiment's actions in the Vicksburg campaign, it's active stay along the Texas coast, and the fighting during the 1864 Shenandoah Valley battles are especially noteworthy material for historians and other researchers to examine. The author was a clear defender of General McClernand's conduct during the Vicksburg Campaign, especially the general's controversial role in the May 22 attack that ultimately led to his loss of command. Convincing or not, Pryce's view is worthy of consideration.

A handsome softcover, the book is heavily illustrated. Eleven maps (by cover designer Laurel Burden) were included, and author and publisher were also able to come up with dozens of photographs (mostly of officers and men mentioned in the text). Not all the maps were of equal utility, and several were reconstructed from other published sources, but the best one was adapted from a fine original creation by David Woodbury depicting the assault on the Railroad Redoubt -- a key moment in the 22nd Iowa's combat history.

As with previous Camp Pope publications, Vanishing Footprints is fully annotated using footnotes rather than endnotes, an always welcome traditional holdout. Burden does not attempt an exhaustively critical examination of Pryce's claims, but he does do so selectively in the notes. The majority of the footnotes provide background information on various individuals (mostly fellow regimental members) mentioned in the text, as well as some help on the classical references typical of the period.

Certainly any researcher or reader with a critical interest in the 22nd Iowa regiment will want to add this volume to his library, but the usefulness of Vanishing Footprints is broader than that. Insights into many obscure Civil War campaigns are prevalent and Pryce's observant and engaging writing is always quotable. Jeffry Burden's very heavy, yet ultimately respectful, excising and editing is a finely managed achievement in publication, a successful completion of the daunting task of transforming a messy manuscript into publishable form. Well done all around.

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