Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Collins: "THE ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA: Organization, Strength, Casualties 1861-1865"

[The Army of Northern Virginia: Organization, Strength, Casualties 1861-1865 by Darrell L. Collins (McFarland 800-253-2187, 2015). Softcover, notes, bibliography, dual index. 389 pp. ISBN:978-0-7864-9997-7. $49.95]

Back in 2013, Darrell Collins published The Army of the Potomac: Order of Battle, 1861-1865, with Commanders, Strengths, Losses and More. His newest book, the companion volume The Army of Northern Virginia: Organization, Strength, Casualties 1861-1865, is a marked improvement in the amount of useful content and in presentation. The book is divided into three main parts [I. Organization Reports, II. Present for Duty Reports, and III. Casualty Reports] with subsections which will be described below.

Section I is primarily composed of the standard, basic top-down army orders of battle that one finds in modern Civil War campaign and battle histories. The complete army organizational structure is examined at approximately a half dozen different dates during a given year over 1861-65. In them, Collins includes not only the Army of Northern Virginia and its early war predecessor but also associated garrison forces and the units of the nearby Department of North Carolina (a frequent source of unit transfers back and forth with the ANV throughout the conflict). The lowest level units represented in the organizational tables are regiments, battalions, independent companies and batteries (with some gun composition data), and their commanders are also frequently cited. The author also takes the exercise one step further, providing extensive commander timelines for each regiment, battalion and battery (also with unit muster-in dates). As one might guess, information is sometimes fragmentary, but basically the reader can readily find the commander of any unit at any given time during the war.

The present-for-duty (PFD) tables in Section II are arranged into eight columns [headings for unit designation, effective officers, effective men, effective total, total present, present and absent, % present, and guns] and, as is the case for many other parts of the book, the amount of detail available from the Official Records varies for a given time period. These reports were supposed to be submitted every ten days but surviving records are greatly incomplete. Unit level is generally at division or above, with spot presence of brigade and regimental numbers. There is some rudimentary analysis of strength changes over time in the corps and division summaries located near the end of the section.

Using orders of battle for each major campaign as a template, Section III tabulates ANV casualty reports in seven columns [headings for unit name, number present, KIA, WIA, MIA, total and casualty %]. Like before, completeness of information varies. The treatment also extends to campaigns outside the ANV's theater of operations when involving major elements of the army (ex. Longstreet's Corps at Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain and Knoxville).

The book helpfully offers both a commander index and a unit index. Like the author's Army of the Potomac volume did before it, the ANV reference guide relies almost entirely on information contained in the O.R., with some spot help this time around from the works of Joseph Crute and Stewart Sifakis along with Alfred Young's recent Overland Campaign numerical study. The most demanding readers of books like this really want regimental strength numbers and battery compositions and there just aren't very many of them in either of Collins's volumes. Nevertheless, there is more than enough other content present to assuage the disappointment of what's missing. Darrell Collins once again deserves considerable credit for laboriously extracting available army order of battle, number and loss data from the O.R. and reassembling it into an easily accessible series of reference tables.

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