Friday, January 20, 2023

Review - "The Eighth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War" by Liska & Perlotto

[The Eighth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War by William A. Liska and Kim L. Perlotto (McFarland, 2023). Softcover, 21 maps, photos, illustrations, appendix section, map notes, endnotes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xii,199/301. ISBN:978-1-4766-9041-4. $45]

Organized in September 1861 and mustered out of Union Army service in December 1865, the Eighth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry regiment compiled a long and reputable Civil War record. What it didn't have, until now, is a proper regimental history. Having neither a veteran-authored unit treatment of the kind published in spades during the decades following the war nor a modern study, the Nutmeggers of the Eighth finally get their story told in William Liska and Kim Perlotto's The Eighth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War.

Old school in approach, Liska and Perlotto's work is primarily concerned with documenting the regiment's eclectic range of military experiences in the eastern theater. After providing a brief organizational summary, the volume immediately launches into the Eighth's first campaign, Burnside's North Carolina expedition, where the unit played a large part in unhinging the Confederate line of defense at New Bern on March 14, 1862 and in pressing the siege of Fort Macon the following month. At Antietam, the Eighth's deep advance on the federal left, which penetrated nearly to the Harpers Ferry Road and Sharpsburg's southern outskirts, cost it almost half its strength. After that traumatic event, the regiment was fortunate to play a mostly reserve role in the bloody Union defeat at Fredericksburg in December. The following year, after the bulk of the regiment's Ninth Corps comrades were transferred out west, the Eighth remained behind to garrison federal outposts in SE Virginia. That spring and summer, their occupation duties in the Suffolk and Portsmouth area included repelling guerrillas and resisting the enemy's unsuccessful "siege" of Suffolk. As a participant in General Dix's 1863 Peninsula campaign, which was launched to roughly coincide with Union efforts to repel Lee's incursion into Maryland and Pennsylvania, the Eighth was attached to Getty's division during the "Blackberry Raid." As part of Eighteenth Corps, the regiment was directly involved in several May 1864 battles of the Bermuda Hundred Campaign (including Port Walthall Junction, Swift Creek, and Drewry's Bluff). The following month, the Eighth's offensive efforts at Cold Harbor received praise from above, and in September the regiment played a major part in the storming of Fort Harrison. Much reduced by casualties and expired enlistments, the unit spent the balance of its term of service performing corps-level provost guard duties.

Over many years leading up to the publication of this volume, the two authors collected and transcribed an astounding body of firsthand documents written by members of the Eighth Connecticut, by their count over 1,000 in number. Skillfully integrated into the main narrative through both excerpts and extensive block quotes (the latter not overused), this material written by officers and men invaluably enriches and humanizes the book's camp, march, and battle history of the regiment. Nuggets found among this large volume of source material help reshape (or at least reconsider) official history. As one example, regimental sources independently contradict key aspects of official reports criticizing the Eighth's May 16, 1864 performance at Drewry's Bluff, where it was alleged the regiment gave way against minimal pressure and unnecessarily exposed flanking units to defeat in detail.

Maps are just as essential to unit histories as they are to campaign and battle studies, and this volume's nearly two dozen original creations are upper tier in quality. Intimately tied to the text, the visual information supplied by this volume's cartography (the sources of which are listed in the map notes of Appendix F) allows readers to readily trace the regiment's footsteps on and off the battlefield. Another appendix contains a collection of mini-biographies, some of which outline the lives of key source contributors. Comprising more than a third of the book, the concluding chapter and the robust appendix section that follows it together offer useful and interesting supplements and side discussions.

In addition to capably filling a gap in the modern roster of available Civil War regimental histories, The Eighth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War makes notable contributions to our knowledge and understanding of a number of major military events of the eastern theater as well as those that occurred on more secondary tidewater Virginia fronts.

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