Since the beginning of this project a couple of months ago, there has been a great deal of the acquisition and reading of material on Civil War cavalry, both primary and secondary sources. Once or twice a month, I will take the opportunity to review selected sources. This entry will focus on Eric Wittenberg’s Rush’s Lancers.
Regimental histories aren’t currently much in vogue, most likely because of the perception that a single regiment’s scope of experience was too limited to be of much historical value. Far more attention has been paid to various armies of the Civil War, and more recently to brigades in military histories. Rush’s Lancers illustrates the errors of this perception.
Wittenberg does a wonderful job of telling the tale of how a Civil War regiment was raised and trained, and describing the difficulties in keeping mounted troopers in the field. There are countless details derived from the words of soldiers of all ranks from the regiment, without bogging the reader down in minutiae. He skillfully blends many personal accounts into a single story without losing the story of the regiment as a whole in the many individual points of view. Although obviously a labor of love, his history of the unit is both even-handed and painstakingly complete. He tells the entire story of the regiment and its soldiers, not simply lingering on the high points and the regiment’s successes.
The enormous amount of time and research are clearly evident in the many endnotes listed in the book. It averages nearly 100 endnotes per chapter; many of them previously unpublished personal accounts. The book is richly illustrated with photographs of dozens of the regiment’s soldiers taken from both public and private collections. Once again Blake Magner’s excellent maps provide the reader easy clarity for the prose accounts of movements and battles.
On the whole, this is an excellent book. The style of writing is very easy to follow, and the pace of the book makes it a joy to read. I think this work will serve for years to come as an essential reference for the study of Civil War cavalry.