Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Booknotes: Lions of the Dan

New Arrival:
Lions of the Dan: The Untold Story of Armistead's Brigade by J.K. Brandau
  (Morgan James Pub, 2019).

"Lions of the Dan" sounds like a cool name for a band, but in this case it is the title of J.K. Brandau's upcoming study of Lewis Armistead's brigade of Virginians (the "Dan" part clearly in reference to the river that meanders along the border between Virginia and North Carolina, with adjoining counties being the source of most of the brigade's recruits). "Popular history lionizes Armistead's Brigade at the climax of Pickett's Charge. The moment transformed its prosaic brigadier into an icon of heroism in art and legend. Armistead perished, but his brigade endured, and its Southside Virginia soldiers exhibited indomitable courage throughout the Civil War. Lions of the Dan: The Untold Story of Armistead's Brigade chronicles those men of Pickett's Charge over the full course of the Civil War."

Though Armistead's Brigade was composed of five infantry regiments (9th, 14th, 38th, 53rd, and 57th Virginia), the author adopts the convention of focusing his narrative upon a representative unit. The 38th Virginia (the "Pittsylvania Regiment") was understandably chosen because it hailed from the county (Pittsylvania) that supplied a quarter of the brigade's manpower.

Out of fifteen total chapters, only one covers Gettysburg and another the immediate aftermath, so the most iconic moment of the brigade's Civil War experience is not (over)emphasized to the exclusion of the rest of the formation's extensive service history. When I think of Armistead's Brigade I also think of Malvern Hill, and the book includes a standalone chapter on that battle as well as others covering Seven Pines, 2nd Manassas/Antietam, Fredericksburg, Siege of Suffolk, New Bern, and the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign. The bibliography is fairly modest in overall size, but the author did conduct his own archival research at a number of repositories located mostly in Virginia and North Carolina. One thing I immediately noticed while thumbing through the book was the lack of maps, which is an unfortunate omission  in a unit study of any kind.

Though the review copy I received is the finished version, the official release date from the publisher is still September 3, so it will be a while yet before general release.

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