Thursday, October 26, 2017

Review of Richter - "THREE CHEERS FOR THE CHESAPEAKE!: History of the 4th Maryland Light Artillery Battery in the Civil War"

[Three Cheers for the Chesapeake!: History of the 4th Maryland Light Artillery Battery in the Civil War by Rick Richter (Schiffer Publishing, 2017). Hardcover, map, photos, illustrations, appendices, endnotes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:132/240. ISBN:978-0-7643-5262-1. $34.99]

The Confederate's Army's Chesapeake Artillery (4th Maryland Light Artillery battery) was formed on January 1, 1862, its members drawn largely from the city of Baltimore and adjacent bay counties. The product of a failed effort to form another Maryland infantry regiment, the 4th battery came late to the recruiting game and was chronically short of men along with being poorly equipped initially. Nevertheless, the unit fought well from Cedar Mountain through Appomattox, earning many plaudits along the way. Rick Richter's Three Cheers for the Chesapeake! is the first full history of the unit, enhanced with an extensively detailed roster of the 145 men that fought with the battery.

Before Richter, the most commonly cited receptacle of 4th Maryland knowledge was William Goldsborough's 1900 classic book The Maryland Line in the Confederate Army, which was assembled from secondary sources as well as personal interviews and correspondence with veterans. According to Richter, primary sources are very few when it comes to the Chesapeake Artillery. The largest collection of letters (those of Sgt. James P. Williams) is located at UVA's Special Collections Library. The Ward Family Papers at the Library of Congress hold the letters of Capt. William D. Brown and Pvt. John Hooff, which are useful but few in number. The Compiled Service Records of Maryland soldiers are another rich resource. These are different as a body from many other CSRs in that they contain more information than most in terms of supporting documentation, because Maryland Confederates, unlike those bound by conscription law, could apply for a discharge from the Confederate Army after three years. Other important sources are the post-war articles of Pvt. Jacob Cook and Pvt. Christopher Lynch's invaluable direct contributions to Goldsborough's book.

Presented either as block quotes or integrated into the main narrative itself, all of the above primary sources form the backbone of Richter's service history of the battery. Due to the aforementioned Chesapeake source limitations, gaps in firsthand coverage are frequent but are acceptably addressed by the author's adroit use of Union accounts as well as those written by Confederate compatriots from nearby units on the line. Initially assigned antiquated guns (save a single 3-inch ordnance rifle), the unit fought well at the battles of Cedar Run, Second Bull Run, and Harpers Ferry, in the process getting its armament upgraded with a pair of rifled gun replacements. Heavy losses in horseflesh made the battery miss Antietam, but the 4th was in action at First and Second Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, the fall 1863 campaigns in Virginia, the Overland Campaign, the 1864-65 Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, and Appomattox.

Throughout the book's series of campaign and battle discussions, Richter uses the available sources well to pinpoint with as much precision as possible the battlefield actions, deployment locations, and movements of the battery. Individual acts of bravery and casualties are also diligently tracked. Through the words of the men themselves, the author also relates the experiences and many challenges of army life in camp and on the march. At less than 120 pages, the service history narrative is relatively brief but never feels overly condensed.

The volume appropriately devotes a greater degree of detail and attention to two of the most defining moments in the battery's Civil War service. On July 2, 1863 at Gettysburg, the unit suffered for its cherished possession of modern rifled guns, when it was smashed at range along with much of Latimer's artillery battalion atop Benner's Hill. The very heavy losses in officers and men incurred that day, combined with the limited access to replacements that plagued Border State Confederate units in general, meant that the already characteristically understrength battery never again would be able to man a full complement of guns. The battery similarly sacrificed itself just outside Petersburg on April 2, 1865, when a detachment from the 4th was surrounded and overwhelmed during the intensely spirited yet doomed Confederate defense of Fort Gregg. On both occasions, those present from the battery suffered 41% casualties.

Along with a service history, the better Civil War unit studies also examine demographic patterns and perform at least some attempt at exploring the range of enlistment and fighting motivations. Richter's book certainly fulfills those expectations. When compared with Joseph Glatthaar's figures for the Army of Northern Virginia as a whole, some interesting unit characteristics for the 4th Battery emerge. The average age of a Chesapeake artilleryman was 18 months younger than those manning other ANV batteries. Compared to the rest of the ANV, the Chesapeakes were more literate and had a far higher proportion of skilled artisans, professionals, and other white-collar workers versus farmers. The unusual youth movement of the 4th meant lower levels of personal wealth, along with a lower percentage of married men and fathers. The slaveholding percentage among the Chesapeakes (personal and household) was only half that of the rest of the ANV. The author convincingly attributes this striking difference to the battery's Border State residence, overall youth, early-career financial means, and marked urban representation.

But what of the later enlisters that historian Kenneth Noe described so well in Reluctant Rebels? According to Richter, the only jarring difference between the early and later enlisters (each group representing roughly half of the battery's total manpower) was a drastically reduced valuation of property among the later enlisters, suggesting that it was the early enlisters that were most concerned with property protection. This situation is the inverse of Noe's findings for the Confederate Army as a whole, but the ultimate meaning behind the difference is left to the reader to decide.

So why join the Confederate Army? Like many other youths in both sections, there were undoubtedly those that enlisted in the Chesapeake Artillery for opportunity and adventure. It also seems most likely that the majority shared many elements of conservative, proslavery culture and politics with citizens of Upper South states like neighboring Virginia. Numerous individuals also fled Maryland to avoid federal persecution of their families.

The extensive appendix section adds significant additional value to the book. In it are discussions of myths and misuses of sources as regards to the battery, a deeper look at the 4th's actions at Second Bull Run, and a more in-depth examination of the unit's Gettysburg casualties. Other parts address in detail unit strength, losses, desertion issues, and battery armament in total and at particular times during the war.

The battery roster that Richter was able to compile is particular impressive. Like most unit rosters, it's fundamentally based on CSRs, but it is also "supplemented with census records..., court-martial records, casualty lists, contemporary accounts, veteran reminiscences, burial records, newspaper articles, family histories, and the records of the Maryland Line Confederate Soldiers' Home" (pg. 163). Richter clearly did his homework here and the resulting amount and range of biographical information is much greater than that found in the typical Civil War unit roster.

Maps are the book's great obvious deficiency. Inside, there are no modern maps of any of the battles (only one period drawing of the August 27, 1862 fighting at Kettle Run-Bristoe Station). While the narrative provides acceptable orientation for veteran readers steeped in the knowledge of eastern theater campaigns, a map series showing unit location(s) on the various battlefields using the best available evidence should be regarded as essential rather than optional.

In combining a solid, informative service history with an illuminating demographic/motivational analysis and arguably definitive roster, Rick Richter successfully brings together in Three Cheers for the Chesapeake! the three central elements of the modern Civil War unit study. Not only is this the first and only comprehensive history of the 4th Maryland Light Artillery, but it also ranks high among modern Confederate battery studies in general.

1 comment:

  1. I'm the great grandson of one of the individuals described in Mr. Richter's book "Three Cheers for the Chesapeake!". I was impressed with the level of detail he was able to provide through his research. I learned some things I did not already know. An outstanding work on a little know Civil War unit, I would highly recommend the book to those interested in Civil War history.


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