Monday, January 16, 2006

Thanks Mom and Dad and Gerald Linderman

Work has picked up a little bit from the holiday lull so I have to spend a little more time focusing on the here and now as opposed to talking about the Civil War. Kevin Levin posted recently on how he came to develop a passion for the Civil War. For Kevin it was a visit to Antietem and Stephen Sears’ Landscape Turned Red. His post caused me to do a little self reflection on the roots of my interest.

Excluding actions by Confederate Agents there are no Civil War battlefields in New England but on almost every town common there is a Civil War monument. The number of monuments spread throughout the region indicates the widespread impact the war had on the region down at the local level. It was the experience of these individual soldiers from the towns and cities of New England that really interested me. My parents must have recognized this because for Christmas I received copy of The Rebel Yell and The Yankee Hurrah. I thought John Haley’s description of his experience was fascinating. This book really started my quest to read and collect all I could about the experience of Maine regiments and soldiers. Today I think I have a pretty good collection of books on Maine in the Civil War including a handful of original regimental histories. Better yet I developed a good handle on what has been published and what is available in regards to manuscript materials on Maine regiments.

The other book that really got my interest in the Civil War ignited was Gerald Linderman’s Embattled Courage. What Linderman did to describe the influence, motivation and process of memory of the common solider was really eye opening too me. This book started a deeper interest trying to understand how men from plucked from civilian life faced the horror of combat. Linderman’s thesis is that as the war progressed the soldier’s never lost their courage but evolved in how they approach the tactical environment they were faced with. According to Linderman by the Spring of 1864 soldier’s had developed the enough perspective to recognize that strict application of the accepted military tactics that called for close order formations and massed charges were outdated. The men had learned to apply tactical variations to orders they were given and seek cover.

From my perspective you can see a lot of what Linderman describes in looking at the experience of the Heavy Artillery Regiments during the Spring of 1864. Coming from the defenses of Washington most of these regiments lacked any practical combat experience and while well drilled were unprepared to face the realities of the battlefield in 1864. One of these regiments was the First Maine Heavy Artillery which went on to set the dubious record of the highest number of battle causalities in a single engagement for all Union regiments on June 18, 1864 at Petersburg, VA.

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