Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tate (ed.): "COL. FRANK HUGER, C.S.A.: The Civil War Letters of a Confederate Artillery Officer"

[Col. Frank Huger, C.S.A.: The Civil War Letters of a Confederate Artillery Officer edited by Thomas K. Tate (McFarland (ph. 800-253-2187), 2011). Softcover, photos, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. 214 Pages. ISBN:978-0-7864-6330-5 $45]

Along with John Bankhead Magruder and Theophilus Holmes, Confederate Major General Benjamin Huger drew the ire of Robert E. Lee for his lackluster performance in the Seven Days Campaign and was banished to the great dumping ground of eastern theater command disappointments, the Trans-Mississippi department. But there were many more Hugers in Confederate service, including sons Benjamin Jr., Eustis, and Frank. It is the letters of Frank Huger, as well as several others penned by his father and two older brothers, that comprise Col. Frank Huger, C.S.A.: The Civil War Letters of a Confederate Artillery Officer.

West Point graduate Francis K. Huger commanded the Norfolk Light Artillery during many of the battles fought by the Army of Northern Virginia in 1862.  Upon promotion to major in the spring of 1863, Huger was second in command of E.P. Alexander's artillery battalion of James Longstreet's First Corps. Sent out west to assist General Bragg's Army of Tennessee after Gettysburg, he missed Chickamauga but participated in the failed Knoxville Campaign. Returning to the Army of Northern Virginia the following spring, Huger fought nearly to the end, ultimately getting himself captured at Sailor's Creek in 1865.

Unlike many officers that tended not to want to talk shop, Huger's letters do comment extensively on military matters in addition to the usual social banter and familial concerns one finds in letters addressed to close relatives. The most extensive letter in the collection describes his Sailor's Creek experience, but another particularly detailed piece of correspondences describes for his family the Overland and Petersburg campaigns.

Huger also provides insights into fundamental problems of Confederate artillery ammunition, poor fuse and shell manufacture. In one letter he includes a drawing illustrating the inconsistent shell wall thicknesses he encountered. As one might imagine, such rifled projectiles flew wildly upon leaving the muzzle. In other places, Huger laments the abominable burst rate of his unit's shells. In one engagement, he counted only 2 out of 20 effective fuses.

Other sections of the book contain letters from Benjamin, Benjamin Jr., and Eustis. These Trans-Mississippi letters highlight the supernumerary position that the family patriarch found himself in in Texas after his "exile" from the Virginia theater. The Huger patriarch generally found his advice on ordnance matters neither solicited nor listened to. In addition to a body of postwar Huger letters, several appendices provide additional ordnance reports and official correspondence.

This is a great collection of letters from the Huger military family, the originals currently residing at the Virginia Historical Society archives. Aided by the apparent mentorship of Robert K. Krick, editor Thomas Tate's notes and commentary (mainly background information pertaining to persons and events mentioned in the letters) are helpful and thorough. The wartime role of Major General Benjamin Huger is often subjected to scorn in the Civil War literature, but his son Frank served throughout the war as a respected figure in the "long arm" of General Lee's army. In addition to highlighting the military contributions of the Huger family in general, Col. Frank Huger, C.S.A. should prove to also be of significant interest to Army of Northern Virginia artillery students.

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