Thursday, June 30, 2022

Book Snapshot: "The Twenty-Eighth Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry: A Brief History"

Ohio-born Ephraim E. Blake was a 20-year-old farmer residing in Marengo, Iowa when he responded to the Lincoln administration's newest call for volunteers during the summer of 1862. He enlisted in Company G of the 28th Iowa Volunteer Infantry and was mustered into Union service with his comrades in October. Marching and fighting with that regiment for the entirety of the war and surviving to tell the tale, Blake was convinced by a local publisher to pen an account of his Civil War service in anticipation of his unit's upcoming reunion. Blake's manuscript was titled The 28th Iowa Infantry: A Brief History of the Movements of this Noble Iowa Regiment and was published in 1896 by Union Press of Belle Plaine, Iowa.

According to Camp Pope Publishing's Clark Kenyon, original copies were produced "in plain paper wrappers" and are "extremely scarce" today. Keeping alive the historical memory of Iowa's outsized Civil War contributions has always been a major goal of Kenyon's publishing career, and in this case he solicited the efforts of Iowa historian Roxana Currie in producing a new edition of Blake's regimental history. The result of their collaboration is The Twenty-Eighth Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry: A Brief History (Camp Pope Publishing, 2022).

This new edition is presented in 5x8 format, with Blake's regimental history narrative running 132 pages. Most prominently, Blake describes his regiment's experiences of the 1862-63 Vicksburg Campaign, Bayou Teche operations, the 1864 Red River Campaign, the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, and Atlantic coastal operations in Georgia and North Carolina in support of General Sherman's march through the Carolinas. Though his account does include many individual "incidents of interest" as adding "a little spice to make it readable," Black records his overall intentions as avoiding stories of officer and soldier feats of valor in favor of confining his "narrative to the regiment as a regiment." Editor Roxana Currie describes Blake's writing style in terms of "long, rambling sentences, but with interesting detail."

Currie's editing duties included transcribing the entire manuscript from the very faded photocopy provided to her and writing the foreword to the new edition. In the foreword, Currie offers some manuscript commentary along with a brief biographical summary of Blake's life before and after the war. The manuscript is presented with only minor corrections. The original edition included a 55-page unit roster, but its incomplete and error-riddled state led to its omission from this edition. Providing links, the Publisher's Note in this volume instead directs readers to other sources for that information.

Kudos to Currie and Camp Pope Publishing for making this scarce primary source widely available for scholars and enthusiasts of Iowa's Civil War history.

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