deWeese, Susan, Civil War History
[Editor's Note: Material submitted to this column about forthcoming meetings or other future events must be received no less than seven months in advance.]
It is unfortunate that the review of my book, Maryland's Blue and Gray: A Border State's Union and Confederate Junior Officer Corps (1997), in the December 1999 issue of Civil War History was not only long in coming, but also dead on arrival. Your reviewer, Judkin Browning of North Carolina State University, concludes that the more than four hundred pages in the book should have been simply condensed into an article.
Naturally, I take exception with Mr. Browning's review. His critique is incomplete and does disservice to the book and ultimately to the readers of your journal. While he applauds the first three chapters, the rest of Maryland's Blue and Gray receives scathing review. Mr. Browning considers the book as faltering in places, repetitive, and name-dropping. I have a few comments which will rebut Mr. Browning's complaints.
A collective biography is just that--the detailed dissection of the lives and military careers of a limited group of men. In the case of Maryland's Blue and Gray, I specifically defined my study as those captains and lieutenants who served as combat arms officers (artillery, cavalry, and infantry) in the Maryland Brigade and the Maryland Line. It is difficult to write a book about these men without providing specific examples of their service during the war. Is this really "name dropping"? I provide full details about the officers with plenty of references throughout the book's text. If Mr. Browning found himself lost or confused, he could have simply reviewed the Appendix's nearly one hundred pages of roster, which provide a summary of the known records of the 365 officers.
These men served in military units and fought in numerous battles and skirmishes throughout the four years of war. One cannot divorce these men from their actual wartime service. Most readers are not intimately familiar with the historical annals of Maryland's Civil War units; consequently, one needs to know what happened to the Maryland units between 1861 and 1865 in order to understand the officers. That Mr. Browning sees Maryland's Blue and Gray as a confused mixture of a "composite social portrait of the junior officers" and a "basic regimental history," indicates that he misses this point. If that is his view, does Mr. Browning condemn other books, such as J. Tracy Power's Lee's Miserables: Life in the Army of Northern Virginia from the Wilderness to
Appomattox, that strive to analyze the collective experiences of soldiers in a military organization?
Mr. Browning takes great exception that Maryland's Blue and Gray does not account for the "symbiotic dynamic" between the junior officers and the enlisted men. This criticism is far off the mark. The book is replete with examples of the relationships between the captains and lieutenants and the men they commanded. I note that this relationship grew through the experience of combat and in camp, but that it was tenuous because of the character strengths and weaknesses of the officers themselves. In addition, casualty rates suffered in the junior officer ranks of both armies greatly impacted on unit cohesion and morale. Likewise, I comment extensively that many enlisted men later moved into positions of responsibility as junior officers as the war took its toll. Through individual merit and prowess on the battlefield, some of these same soldiers even became field grade officers and a handful ended the war as general officers. I invite Mr. Browning to review the passages in the book discussing the service of Capt. William H. Murray or 1st Lt. Harrison Adreon if he has any lingering doubts about this "symbiotic dynamic."
Over the past two decades, historians have expanded and enriched the field of Civil War research. …