Thursday, March 28, 2019

Booknotes: The Seventh West Virginia Infantry

New Arrival:
The Seventh West Virginia Infantry: An Embattled Union Regiment from the Civil War's Most Divided State by David W. Mellott and Mark A. Snell (UP of Kansas, 2019).

"Though calling itself “The Bloody Seventh” after only a few minor skirmishes, the Seventh West Virginia Infantry earned its nickname many times over during the course of the Civil War. Fighting in more battles and suffering more losses than any other West Virginia regiment, the unit was the most embattled Union regiment in the most divided state in the war. Its story, as it unfolds in" David Mellott and Mark Snell's The Seventh West Virginia Infantry: An Embattled Union Regiment from the Civil War's Most Divided State, "is a key chapter in the history of West Virginia, the only state created as a direct result of the Civil War. It is also the story of the citizen soldiers, most of them from Appalachia, caught up in the bloodiest conflict in American history."

Though the regiment spent the early months of the war in the western Virginia highlands securing the B&O Railroad and other vital points, it was transferred east to the Army of the Potomac in 1862. It "fought in the major campaigns in the eastern theater, from Winchester, Antietam, and Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Petersburg." Integrating military, political, and social history, the study certainly appears to have all the qualities readers expect from better quality modern regimental histories. The Seventh West Virginia Infantry "details strategy, tactics, battles, campaigns, leaders, and the travails of the rank and file. It also examines the circumstances surrounding events, mundane and momentous alike such as the soldiers’ views on the Emancipation Proclamation, West Virginia Statehood, and Lincoln’s re-election."

Along with the rest, a rich portrait of those who fought with the Seventh also emerges from the study. "The product of decades of research, the book uses statistical analysis to profile the Seventh’s soldiers from a socio-economic, military, medical, and personal point of view; even as its authors consult dozens of primary sources, including soldiers’ living descendants, to put a human face on these “sons of the mountains.” The result is a multilayered view, unique in its scope and depth, of a singular Union regiment on and off the Civil War battlefield—its beginnings, its role in the war, and its place in history and memory." This soldier information is sprinkled throughout, but the appendix section is also used for additional data presentation, with an age distribution graph and a trio of pie charts depicting birthplace, occupation categories, and hospitalization stats. Numerous photographs are included along with eleven maps.

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