Sunday, January 18, 2015

Lesley J. Gordon's "A Broken Regiment"

Lesley J. Gordon is professor of history at the University of Akron, author of General George E. Pickett in Life and Legend, and coeditor of Inside the Confederate Nation: Essays in Honor of Emory M. Thomas.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut's Civil War, and reported the following:
In my book, I wanted to examine some of the complexities and ironies that emerged in the experiences of a ragtag Civil War regiment that simply struggled to survive war. The more I researched them, the more it became clear that this unit was not an exemplar of high military honor or heroism. They faltered in battle, bristled against commanders and bickered amongst themselves. After their final ignominy of capture and imprisonment, they then recounted to the postwar public a selective story that idealized their experiences. Still, they were a remarkable group who stood loyal to one another and persevered through challenges great and small.

Page 99 comes early in a chapter focused on Portsmouth, Virginia and titled “A Perfect Village.” During the summer and fall of 1863, while the major armies participated in famed campaigns like Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Chickamauga, the nomadic 16th Connecticut settled into another new garrison, largely on the margins of the war. Here, the regiment created a camp that was so comfortable and pleasant--with a church, a theater, cabins, plentiful food and family visits --that it hardly seemed like soldiering at all. On this particular page, I describe their mixed reaction to women visiting. Some like Pvt. John Cuzner, who discouraged his mother and sweetheart from coming, believed military camp was “no place for women . . . too much vulgar talk.” However, others welcomed them, maintaining that their presence improved morale and decorum. This page also describes the soldiers’ generally upbeat reception toward Sarah Burnham, the mother of Lt. Col. John Burnham. She would spend several months with the men, caring for the sick and nursing many back to health. Corporal Woodford called Mrs. Burnham a “perfect angel compared to her son.”

Yet such calmness and good will did not last: when ordered to move further south in January 1864, members spitefully burned the camp to the ground rather than hand it over to another regiment. Within a year nearly the entire regiment would be captured and sent to Andersonville prison where scores would suffer and die from malnutrition and disease. The contrast to Portsmouth could not be starker. Unlike many of the regiment’s more turbulent experiences, Page 99 offers a behind the scenes glimpse into a rare moment of domestic calm during the every-changing reality of soldier life during wartime.
Learn more about A Broken Regiment at the Louisiana State University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue