Monday, October 24, 2016

"HOFFMAN'S ARMY: The 31st Virginia Infantry, CSA 1861-1865"

With well-equipped Union forces in overwhelming numbers lurking just across the state border and a disaffected local population to contend with, the Confederacy was greeted with a tall (and likely insurmountable) order when it came to defending trans-Allegheny Virginia. Arms and supplies were scarce and the region's budding oil industry further siphoned off potential recruits. Making the grim military situation even worse, Confederate and state authorities deemed the area one of low priority when it came to defending Virginia's potential avenues of Union invasion.

From this troubled military and political milieu emerged the 31st Virginia, a Confederate infantry regiment comprised of volunteers from nine western Virginia counties. David Wooddell's Hoffman's Army: The 31st Virginia Infantry, CSA 1861-1865 (Author, 2016) is a new regimental study that examines at length the organization and Civil War service history of the unit.

I've only read the first four chapters (thus categorizing this as a "Book Snapshot," and not a full review). In them, Wooddell ably recreates for the reader the military and political situation in western Virginia, while also carefully documenting the raising of Confederate companies in the region and their incorporation into what would become the 31st regiment. From the Confederate perspective, it is one of the better treatments of the early war months in western Virginia. Regional military operations (ex. at Philippi, Corrick's Ford, Laurel Hill, Greenbrier River, Allegheny Mountain, and other places) are recounted to a satisfactory level of detail, while also dutifully highlighting the actions of the officers (among them field grade officers William L. Jackson and the John S. Hoffman of the title) and men of the 31st. As with most better books of this type, mini-biographies of the regimental officers are plentiful.

The notes indicate a strong emphasis on primary source research. The author mined manuscript collections at the National Archives and a few other repositories in Virginia and West Virginia, and he does a fine job of integrating the material (from both officers and enlisted soldiers) into the text. Wooddell also created a large set of original maps for the book, and, though a bit small, they are of better-than-average usefulness.

Skimming through the rest of the book, one finds similarly intensive treatments of the regiment's role in a series of eastern theater campaigns and battles fought between 1862 and 1865. These include Jackson's Valley Campaign, the Peninsula Campaign, Second Bull Run, the Maryland Campaign, Fredericksburg, the return to West Virginia during the 1863 Imboden Raid, Gettysburg, the Overland Campaign, and finally Petersburg and Appomattox. My sampling of the book's content is admittedly limited, but general concerns regarding problems typically found with self-published regimental histories were satisfactorily addressed in the process. Save an absent roster, all signs point toward Hoffman's Army being a vastly superior upgrade to the existing Virginia Regimental History series volume.

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