Savas Beatie, 2019, 456 pgs, $39.95
Image courtesy of amazon.com
I enjoy a number of regimental histories as I grew my Civil War book collection, and I seemed to gravitate towards those units that served throughout the war as a whole, whether it be the eastern or western theater. And each time a new history came out, I would be drawn to it. These books gave me a chance to see through the eyes of a soldier through personal accounts and battle reports. Today’s book, The Petersburg Regiment, is one such unit that served for the entirety of the war, and even serving before the war began. And just like the subtitle of the book, this addition to regimental studies in the war doesn’t disappoint.
John Horn gained his B.A. in English and Latin from New College in Sarasota, Florida and a J.D. from Columbia Law School. John has practiced law around Chicago and has also held a local public office. He has published a number of articles in Civil War Times Illustrated, America’s Civil War, and has authored some books on the subject as well. Most recently, his work The Destruction of the Weldon Railroad, was republished in 2015 as The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864.
If you were to look at a regimental history from the post-Civil War era of publishing, the chapters titles offer a look into each portion of the unit’s history. While that may have been the style then, it’s no longer the case. Horn puts out the regiment’s history in easy-to-follow segments, so that anyone looking to gain information on a specific battle or campaign would be able to find it in the table of contents. But I’m not here to tell you about the table of contents. But just by looking at the contents of this book, you’ll find that these men who served in the 12th Virginia, witnessed some of the most iconic battles during the war on the eastern theater. I’ve always been fascinated with the story about the Bliss Farm during the Gettysburg campaign, and I was pleased to see such vivid accounts of the fight there during the battle. Yet, one of the more exciting and nerve-wracking portions of the book was the account of the Crater. To hear some of the stories about these men who were fighting in ditches and trying to find safety in this time was some of the best portions of the book. Overall, the accounts of the battles were solid, well researched, and accompanied by some fine maps.
But that’s not the only thing this book gave us. One thing that regimental histories seems to drop during their accounts of the war tends to be the humanity of some soldiers. The best ones stand out, but most others are there for research purposes. I’m happy to say that The Petersburg Regiment is one of the regimental histories that humanizes the men in the ranks. This isn’t just some informative reference guide that deepens histories of the battle. These people described in this account are people. By the end of reading this, I felt that some of these men were alive, jumping out of the page, and for that, it is a book that I would recommend. Horn did an amazing job giving life to those who have passed so long ago. The narrative is something to behold, and should be read by any regimental enthusiast.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the life of Civil War regiments. Not only does Horn excellently describe the battles these units took place in, but he brought them to life. If there is anything an author should be praised for, it is the ability to create a story from the history. Highly recommended!