Monday, December 2, 2019

Book Snapshot: Rhode Island's Civil War Dead

With seemingly inexhaustible research and writing interests in the Rhode Island Civil War experience, Robert Grandchamp is rapidly becoming a leading authority on the subject. His eight related books include several unit studies, an edited letter collection, an annotated bibliography of Rhode Island sources, and an introductory history of the state's contributions to the war effort. The newest addition to this body of work is Rhode Island's Civil War Dead: A Complete Roster (McFarland, 2019).

During his twenty years of researching Civil War Rhode Island topics, Grandchamp strongly suspected the most commonly cited figures for Rhode Island military deaths (William Fox's 1,321, Harold Barker's unsourced 1,685, and the state monument committee's 1,727) were all much too low. Using the official state roster as a base, the author consulted service and pension records in the National Archives and visited "every town hall, cemetery, and archive" in the state (regardless of how small of a state Rhode Island is, that's quite the dedicated effort). Those local, ground-level efforts in town records and gravestone inscriptions, supplemented by regimental histories, diaries, and letters, uncovered "scores" of additional fatalities that occurred either during the war or were directly related to war service. The figure finally arrived at is 2,217 soldiers and sailors (out of 23,236 men who served), accompanied by humble acknowledgement that the true number of deaths will never been known for certain.

Directly following the introductory chapter and brief methodology discussion is the complete roster of the dead. Organized by unit [generals and staff, one Detached Militia regiment, seven volunteer infantry regiments, three heavy artillery regiments, three cavalry regiments (plus one independent squadron), nine artillery batteries, hospital guards, regular army and navy, and finally those that served in the volunteer forces of other states] and arranged alphabetically, roster information includes name, rank, company, residence, circumstances and date of death, and interment site. Where applicable, grave numbers are also added.

An appendix table helpfully lists total fatality numbers (in battle and by other causes) for each regiment. In addition to a name index, chapter notes and an annotated bibliography can be found at the rear of the book. For certain, this is a valuable reference tool for anyone researching Rhode Island Civil War genealogy and history.

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