Friday, January 3, 2020

Booknotes: A Yankee Regiment in Confederate Louisiana

New Arrival:
A Yankee Regiment in Confederate Louisiana: The 31st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in the Gulf South by Larry Lowenthal (LSU Press, 2019).

If you're like me and crave regimental histories of units that operated off the beaten path then Larry Lowenthal's A Yankee Regiment in Confederate Louisiana: The 31st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in the Gulf South looks like the book for us. The regiment "was one of only a handful of New England units to serve in Louisiana and the Gulf region during the Civil War, and, of those, it remained there the longest."

Units that fought in the Trans-Mississippi and western theaters often were forced to take the field in hybrid capacities, and the 31st "assumed numerous roles, functioning as infantry, cavalry, and mounted infantry when needed. The regiment operated as an army of occupation; participated in siege warfare at Port Hudson, Louisiana; marched and fought in long field operations such as the Red River campaign; engaged in guerrilla warfare; and garrisoned coastal defense fortifications. It also had the distinction of being the first Federal unit to enter and occupy New Orleans."

Lowenthal's chronicling of the 31st's Civil War service is also unprecedented. A Yankee Regiment in Confederate Louisiana "is the first comprehensive examination of this remarkable regiment and its men." Along the way, the author benefited from an unusual stroke of good fortune when it came to collecting unpublished firsthand sources.

More from the description: "When veterans of the unit attempted to write its history in the late nineteenth century, they were not able to complete the task, but they did collect a large quantity of primary-source materials and deposited them in a Springfield, Massachusetts, museum. Lowenthal’s work draws heavily from that unpublished cache. Among the documents are highly personal letters, diaries, and first-person recollections that offer vivid and unrivaled accounts of the unit’s military experiences, as well as its soldiers’ impressions of the people and physical conditions they encountered in Louisiana." The book adds a valuable new perspective to "the literature on occupied Louisiana and the Union Army’s service in the Gulf South."

Arriving on my doorstep over the holidays, this December 2019 release was one of my most highly anticipated titles of last year. At least from appearances, it would have a made a strong push for inclusion on my year-end list of favorites. I'm looking forward to reading it.


  1. The blurb on the back bugged me. "was one of only a handful of New England units to serve in Louisiana." Tras-Mississippi is not something I've taken a lot of time to read about, but New England regiments are and I've always noted a profusion of New England regiments fighting in LA and the Gulf. Taking a quick glance at the Port Hudson order of battle I noticed at least 30 regiments (not counting artillery or cavalry) that were from New England. I would imagine the author didn't write the publishing blurb, but it's still annoying to me.

    1. Yes, the Nineteenth Corps was positively brimming with New England units.


***PLEASE READ BEFORE COMMENTING***: You must SIGN YOUR NAME when submitting your comment. In order to maintain civil discourse and ease moderating duties, anonymous comments will be deleted. Comments containing outside promotions and/or product links will also be removed. Thank you for your cooperation.