336 pgs – The University of North Carolina Press
Image Courtesy of Barnes and Noble
Rod Gragg has performed something in his work on the 26th North Carolina which has become a newly found writing style in the past few year: a microhistory of a regimental history. By doing this, he brings us a story which is truly heartbreaking and so grand that even the most staunch Unionist should stand up and applaud.
Gragg is the author of other Civil War works such as The Confederate Goliath: The Battle of Fort Fisher and The Gettysburg Reader. He is also the director for the center of Military and Veteran Studies at Coastal Carolina University.
To call this book a microhistory of a regimental history is not really true. Gragg spends a good amount of time in the beginning of the book giving us a backstory into the regiment; where it was formed, who were the commanders and any political and military situations they found themselves in. The triumph of the book is the beginning in which we gain the knowledge of these people. Without that knowledge, the reader would not have any connection with these men as they marched into the onslaught of Herbst Woods and McPherson’s Ridge on July 1st. His accounts of New Bern and the political discourse which flew through the command make the reader wonder how they managed to stay together for so long. One of the best parts of the book is the relationship described between Burgwyn, the regiment’s commander, and Pettigrew, the brigade commander. This outlook shows how much their lives were intertwined all the way through the prose. Gragg also fuels the text with enough stories along with strategy and tactics that the reader is never bogged down in details. Many of the people you meet through this text become real through the descriptions and when the tactics are brought in, there is a greater understanding of what happened on those days in July without the use of maps. Gragg, however, does use maps to help the reader visualize what he is writing about along with some great photographs of these men.
As the end of the battle occurs, so much bravery and sacrifice was given by the men of the 26th North Carolina that you get chills when the numbers are listed off for their casualty rate. The dismal part of the retreat back to Virginia is one of the saddest moments of historical writing I can ever think of. What Rod Gragg has done is create a story and a scholarly work that can be read over and over again with enjoyment every time it is picked up. This book is highly recommended for any interested in the Battle of Gettysburg and the regiments who fought there.