Thursday, March 20, 2008

McCann: "Hurst's Wurst"

[Hurst's Wurst: Colonel Fielding Hurst and the Sixth Tennessee Cavalry U.S.A. by Kevin D. McCann (author - McCann Publishing, 4th ed. 2007). Softcover, map, photos, notes, bibliography, unit roster, biographical sketches, index. Pages main/total: 102/148 ISBN: 978-0967125121 $20]

Author Kevin D. McCann utilizes a variety of sources to construct a slender military history of the 6th Tennessee Cavalry (U.S.) and its controversial commander, Fielding Hurst. Hurst, a wealthy slave owner from McNairy County, was a dedicated Unionist from the beginning. Disreputable in both private and public life, Hurst nevertheless maintained a notable career in public office after the war. While McCann acknowledges the colonel's wartime misdeeds and criminality (actions that frequently extended down the chain of command) the author urges some caution in judgment, with due consideration to the persecution he and other unionists suffered at the hands of Confederates. In terms of background, McCann makes the anecdotal case that the unionism of Hurst and his men was essentially based on ideology; however, a deeper social and political examination of the region would have enriched his study and enhanced its value.

The majority of Hurst's Wurst's main text is devoted to a summary of the regiment's military service. Composed of West Tennessee natives, the mounted unit was initially welcomed by local Union commanders, as the men's local knowledge proved invaluable in performing scouting and counter-guerrilla duties.

Unfortunately, requisitions for proper arms and mounts were often given low priority and even routine needs were never fully met. Effectiveness was further hampered by the inability of the officers to instill discipline [undoubtedly the lack of materiel and support from above had some effect upon performance]. An unfortunate penchant for plunder and extortion extended all the way to the top. The unit culture of the 6th was dysfunctional to say the least. Routed in a fight with Confederate cavalry at Bolivar in March 1864, the regiment's reputation plunged even further, leading the unit to be consigned to undesirable duties for the rest of the war.

Rather narrowly focused on the military sphere, McCann's study does carry additional value for researchers. A complete regimental roster was included, as well as biographical sketches of the unit's officers. While the origins and overall complexity of West Tennessee unionism are not examined in depth, readers interested in Fielding Hurst's background and in the wartime history of the 6th will find Hurst's Wurst a worthwhile read.

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