Thursday, September 19, 2019

Booknotes: The Hardest Lot of Men

New Arrival:
The Hardest Lot of Men: The Third Minnesota Infantry in the Civil War by Joseph C. Fitzharris (OU Press, 2019).

With its heavy focus on the Trans-Mississippi (particularly mid and late-war Arkansas) this one looks to be just what I was hoping it might be. As David Silkenat recently reminded us in Raising the White Flag, public and military perception of Civil War mass surrenders varied drastically depending on the circumstances, and the Third Minnesota was a victim of one of the more infamous ones in July 1862 when it was surrendered with the rest of the Murfreesboro garrison to Nathan Bedford Forrest. As would be case with many other units caught up in similar events, an unfairly acquired stigma would follow them.

"Through letters, personal accounts of the men, and other sources," Joseph Fitzharris's The Hardest Lot of Men: The Third Minnesota Infantry in the Civil War "recounts how the Minnesotans, prisoners of war, broken in spirit and morale, went home and found redemption and renewed purpose fighting the Dakota Indians." During that campaign, the regiment would play an important role during the defense of Fort Abercrombie and in the fighting at Wood Lake.

More from the description: "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 participated 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. In both Tennessee and Arkansas, the Minnesotans actively supported the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) and provided many officers for USCT units." From Pine Bluff the regiment was moved to DeValls Bluff and remained at that garrison station until the end of the war.

More: The Hardest Lot of Men "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 illustrating aspects of a nineteenth-century soldier’s life—enlisted and commissioned alike—from recruitment and training to the rigors of active duty."

3 comments:

  1. Drew... AGREED!! Besides Christ's Book on Arkansas in 1863 and the Division I can think of only really obscure stuff on the Little Rock Campaign. Whenever I think of the Little Rock Campaign I think of the 3rd Minnesota. As an added bonuses I checked Wikipedia and after their surrender at Murfreesboro and before being sent back to Kentucky and Tennessee to join the Vicksburg Campaign they were involved in the Dakota Wars protecting the MN frontier at the Battle of Dry Wood Lake. Definitely looking to check this one out. Curt Thomasco

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    1. Curt,
      Have you seen that new edition of The Division? It was a major disappointment. The maps, one of its best features, got completely butchered in the change from oversize to standard page format and there were some other things that I can't recall anymore offhand. Even though the binding is garbage, keep the old edition!

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