Monday, May 20, 2019

Book News: The Hardest Lot of Men

David Silkenat's Raising the White Flag: How Surrender Defined the American Civil War is the first attempt at a comprehensive, theme-based study of the topic, and one aspect of it is discussion of the many factors behind varying reactions (on both home and military fronts) to the wholesale surrenders that occurred with a high degree of frequency during the conflict. One such episode widely deemed disgraceful was the Union surrender of the Murfreesboro garrison to Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry raiders in July 1862. A unit whose Civil War was heavily defined by this surrender was the Third Minnesota, and the profoundly dispiriting effect the episode had on the regiment will be discussed in Joseph Fitzharris's upcoming book The Hardest Lot of Men: The Third Minnesota Infantry in the Civil War (OU Press, September 2019).

As I've stated before, most recently when sharing news about another yet to be released unit study, regimental histories interest me most when they address participation in lesser-known fronts or incompletely covered events. This is the case with the Third's up and down experiences of the war in the western and Trans-Mississippi theaters.

From the description: "Through letters, personal accounts of the men, and other sources, author Joseph C. Fitzharris recounts how the Minnesotans, prisoners of war, broken in spirit and morale, went home and found redemption and renewed purpose fighting the Dakota Indians. They were then sent south to fight guerrillas along the Tennessee River. In the process, the regiment was forged anew as a superbly drilled and disciplined unit that engaged in the siege of Vicksburg and in the Arkansas Expedition that took Little Rock. At Pine Bluff, Arkansas, sickness so reduced its numbers that the Third was twice unable to muster enough men to bury its own dead, but the men never wavered in battle."

After the capture of the Arkansas capital in September 1863, the regiment remained in the state for the duration of the conflict. I am looking forward to reading more about this late-war period, particularly the unit's role in the 1864 Battle of Fitzhugh's Woods. I recall that action being discussed in broader books about the war in NE Arkansas from Freeman Mobley and Lady Elizabeth Watson, but neither account felt truly satisfactory.

The book "follows the Third through occupation to war’s end, when the returning men, deeming the citizens of St. Paul insufficiently appreciative, spurned a celebration in their honor. In this first full account of the regiment, Fitzharris brings to light the true story long obscured by the official histories and illustrates myriad aspects of a nineteenth-century soldier’s life—enlisted and commissioned alike—from recruitment and training to the rigors of active duty. The Hardest Lot of Men gives us an authentic picture of the Third Minnesota, at once both singular and representative of its historical moment." Sounds very interesting.

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