Friday, July 29, 2011

Newell & Shrader: "OF DUTY WELL AND FAITHFULLY DONE: A History of the Regular Army in the Civil War"

[Of Duty Well and Faithfully Done: A History of the Regular Army in the Civil War by Clayton R. Newell and Charles R. Shrader (University of Nebraska Press, 2011). Hardcover, 30 illustrations, 1 map, 44 tables, 3 charts, appendix. 424 pp. ISBN:978-0-8032-1910-6  $75]

Clayton Newell and Charles Shrader's thick tome Of Duty Well and Faithfully Done is not a narrative history of the United State Regular Army in the Civil War but rather an impressively thorough encyclopedic reference to the officers, units, and staff department bureaus that contributed in no small part to Union victory. Never strong in terms of numbers on the battlefield, it was the staff departments that really shined all out of proportion to their size, managing the organization, training, arming, equipping, and supplying of a vast volunteer army.

The book begins with a brief discussion of the state of the U.S. army on the eve of the Civil War, who led it and where the units were stationed inside each administrative department. From there, the authors delve into the army command structure and personnel from top to bottom. The two largest sections of the work deal with the staff departments and the regiments comprising the three major service branches (as well as the Corps of Engineers and Signal Corps -- the "fighting bureaus").

Expanding the army from roughly 16,000 pre-war officers and men to a volunteer one that reached over one million at any given time required the staff departments to expand in kind. Remarkably, the comparatively modest increase in bureau staff levels proved able to do the job. In their book, Newell and Shrader detail the mission, function, leadership, personnel, organization, and operations of the administrative departments [Adjutant General, Inspector General, Judge Advocate General, and Pay] as well as the Subsistence, Ordnance, Quartermaster, and Medical Departments.

In addition to the descriptive nature of the their work, the authors also contribute analysis in the form of a "challenges and achievements" section for each. At the beginning of the war, the decision had to be made whether to expand the regular army or temporarily disband it and distribute the men as a cadre. The authors determined that the compromise position that was taken was not ideal and lengthened the war but recognized the political forces behind it. Popular writers often condemn the ordnance chiefs for their conservatism, but the authors rightly point out the importance of providing the men with proven weapons and the initial impossibility of producing the newer shoulder arms at the speed and scale required. On the medical front, Newell and Shrader praise advances made in hospital care, medical supply, and field sanitation but critically note that medical technology lagged behind destructive technology. They also criticize the Army Medical Department for not fostering close cooperation with the other staff departments and army commanders in the field. In reference to the former, I do think the authors somewhat undervalue the significance of AMD advances in surgical technique and training, as well as wound management.

The second largest section, titled "Army in the Field", examines the leadership and organization of each regular infantry, cavalry, and artillery regiment. There are command and casualty tables for each branch, and capsule histories of the roles played by many of these units in select campaigns and battles are also provided (e.g. infantry at Valverde, cavalry in the Shenandoah in 1864, and artillery at Gettysburg and Shiloh).

While the volume is adequately illustrated overall (especially with its large variety of tables), one might wish for more photographs and maps. But this is only a minor quibble with what should be regarded as an essential addition to all Civil War research libraries. The label comprehensive is vastly overused in the reviewing of Civil War publications, but it applies to Of Duty Well and Faithfully Done in a fashion few others can boast. Clayton Newell and Charles Shrader have created the literature's best one stop resource for the Regular Army in the Civil War.

  More CWBA reviews of UNL Press titles:

* Antietam, South Mountain, and Harpers Ferry: A Battlefield Guide
* Counter-Thrust: From the Peninsula to the Antietam
* Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign
* The Peninsula & Seven Days: A Battlefield Guide
* Wilson's Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide, with a Section on Wire Road

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