Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Booknotes: Burnside's Boys

New Arrival:
Burnside's Boys: The Union's Ninth Corps and the Civil War in the East by Darin Wipperman (Stackpole Bks, 2023).

Following on the heels of his First Corps history First for the Union: Life and Death in a Civil War Army Corps from Antietam to Gettysburg (2020), Darin Wipperman's Burnside's Boys: The Union's Ninth Corps and the Civil War in the East embarks on a deep dive into another Union corps, this one, while also primarily associated with the war's eastern theater, much more far ranging in its service.

Formally organized in Virginia on July 22, 1862 between the twin turmoils of the Peninsula/Seven Days and Second Bull Run campaign defeats and initially composed of nineteen regiments, a core of seven regiments (the 45th, 50th, 51st, and 100th Pennsylvania, 8th Michigan, 21st Massachusetts, and 79th New York) fought with the corps over its entire history beginning with the antecedent Burnside Expedition to North Carolina. From summer 1862 onward, Ninth Corps soldiers found themselves in Maryland, Kentucky, Mississippi, and East Tennessee before returning to Virginia soil for the war's bloody 1864-65 denouement. The corps did so much traveling, east and west, that one member nicknamed it "Burnside's Geography Class" (pg. xv-xvi).

As the subtitle makes explicit, only the "key points" of Ninth Corps campaigning in the western theater are addressed in this volume, its narrative still a hefty 400+ pages in length. Overwhelming focus is placed on the Maryland and Virginia fronts, where "the bulk of the Ninth Corps' service and combat losses occurred." The book's preface outlines its content as follows:
"The introduction discusses the months immediately preceding the official formation of the Ninth Corps (briefly touching upon the North Carolina expedition). Part One's focus will be on the organization of the Ninth Corps and two early engagements, Second Bull Run and ... Chantilly. The second part of this book covers two weeks of September 1862, from the reorganization of the Army of the Potomac through the evening of September 16. Part Three focuses on one day, the devastating battle along Antietam Creek. Next, two parts discuss the movement to Fredericksburg, the terrible battle there, and the year in the West. Parts Six and Seven detail the last year of the war, when the Ninth Corps sustained horrendous losses back in Virginia. A presentation of the postwar lives of fifteen Ninth Corps veterans concludes the book." (pg.xvi-xvii)

In his earlier book, Wipperman warned readers at the outset to expect some unconventional author views on the First Corps leadership, General Reynolds in particular. There's no similar disclosure here regarding Ninth Corps's much more controversial commander. A large body of primary and secondary sources are listed in the bibliography, including a pretty hefty manuscript research section that undoubtedly feeds the ground-level aspect of the narrative in a way that "vividly reconstructs life—and death—in the Ninth Corps."

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