Masters of the Field, The Fourth United States Cavalry in the Civil War

Hardcover, 256 pages, with 13 black & white photos and maps, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must begin this review by stating that I have seen this project in various stages over the last ten years, and have corresponded with the author for the better part of a decade. That said, I have done my best to be as impartial as possible in this review.

In Masters of the Field, author John Herberich tells the tale of the 4th United States Cavalry Regiment in the Civil War. Herberich’s work is the first of its kind on the regiment. While there have been volumes written on Minty’s brigade as a whole, and a couple of the other regiments individually, no one until now has published a Civil War history of the regiment.

The author sets the stage well with an explanation of the regiment’s beginnings in 1855 and status as the war began. He then follows the regiment as it fights through the majority of the major battles of the Western Theater, and a few of the Eastern Theater, until the final cavalry charge with General Wilson at Selma, Alabama. Each year of the war has its own section, as the regiment is followed through battles such as Wilson’s Creek, Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Stones River, Chickamauga and the Tullahoma and Atlanta campaigns.

The author spent nearly twelve years researching this book, and the depth of research is easily apparent. I am confident he found every record of substance with information on the regiment, and used them wherever possible to tell the regiment’s story in the words of the participants. There are extensive quotes from the letters and memoirs of enlisted men such as James Larson, Charles Bates, and James Wiswell, as well as National Tribune articles from others. These help flesh out the official reports and officer narratives quite nicely. Thirty seven pages of endnotes ensure the reader looking for more information will be easily able to find it, though many of the sources are very rare. The bibliography appears short at first glance, before one considers that the majority of the material comes from army records at the National Archives and several letter collections.

A robust section of appendices follows the narrative, including a full roster of the regiment’s soldiers. Other sections focus on the regiment’s officers, including field commissions and those from before the war who later became general officers for either the C.S.A. or the U.S.A.

I thoroughly enjoyed Hal Jesperson’s maps, which provided an excellent aid to following the progression of the various campaigns. Some individual battle maps would have been nice, but I am certainly in the category of military history reader who always desires more maps.

The author has an understandably pro-regiment bias, as his great-grandfather served in the unit throughout the war. Herberich is forthright about the matter, addressing it in the prologue and the epilogue, and I did not find it a distraction. He certainly accomplishes his goal of capturing the service of the regiment for posterity and honoring its members. The overwhelming majority of quotes were from Union sources, however. It would have been helpful to see more Confederate accounts, particularly during the battle sequences.

I reviewed a digital version of the book, so I can’t speak to the physical characteristics of the book, such as quality of binding.

Overall, this book is an excellent addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in the Western Theater of the Civil War, particularly those interested in cavalry operations and the Army of the Cumberland.