Monday, May 9, 2022

Booknotes: Chicago to Appomattox

New Arrival:
Chicago to Appomattox: The 39th Illinois Infantry in the Civil War by Jason B. Baker (McFarland, 2022).

From the description: "With assistance from Governor Richard Yates, the 39th Illinois Infantry--"The Yates Phalanx"--enlisted young men from Chicago, its modern-day suburbs, and small towns of northern and central Illinois." According to Jason Baker, the author of Chicago to Appomattox: The 39th Illinois Infantry in the Civil War, the extent of direct connection Yates might have had with the officers and men of the 39th remains murky. Nevertheless, the governor was involved in selecting where they would fight. By offering the 39th as the final cog in the organization of a new brigade forming for duty in Virginia, the governor ensured another small but visible eastern theater presence for his state. On a side note, I was curious about how many Illini units did serve in the east. This page notes that the 39th was indeed in pretty rare company.

By the author's estimate, the regiment traveled as much as 6,000 miles by foot, boat, and train during the length of its service. "While most Illinois Civil War regiments fought in the west, the 39th marched through the Shenandoah Valley to fight Stonewall Jackson, to Charleston Harbor for the Second Battle of Fort Sumter and to Richmond for the year-long siege at Petersburg."

Part III of the book, which details the regiment's 1864-65 attachment to the Army of the James around Richmond and Petersburg, appears to be the meatiest section, undoubtedly due to that theater hosting the unit's heaviest and most prolonged fighting experience. More from the description: "This book chronicles day-to-day life in the regiment, the myriad factors that determined its path, and the battles fought by the Chicagoans--including two Medal of Honor recipients--who fired some of the last shots before the Confederate surrender."

As revealed in the preface, Baker's modern study has its basis in regimental surgeon Charles Clark's 1889 history as well as published firsthand accounts written by four other members of the 39th. Each chapter, of which there are 21, begins with a short biography of a unit member. Further information about the men can be found in the roster appendix, which is based on Clark's veteran history but fact-checked from other sources. Organized by company, the roster includes the typical service record information one finds for individuals while also adding organizational summaries and data tables. Maps and illustrations (including both modern and archival photographs) supplement the main text.

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