Thursday, November 11, 2010

Smith: "THE 22ND MAINE VOLUNTEER INFANTRY IN THE CIVIL WAR: A History and Roster"

[The 22nd Maine Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster by Ned Smith (McFarland, 2010). Softcover, 13 maps, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. 260 pages. ISBN:978-0-7864-4893-7 $35]

The 22nd Maine was a 9-month infantry regiment formed in the summer of 1862. After a stopover in Washington D.C., it was shipped to Louisiana as part of General Nathaniel Banks's Department of the Gulf (19th Corps, Cuvier Grover's division). Soon after their arrival on the lower Mississippi, the Maine men were assigned to garrison duty in Baton Rouge and participated in the land diversion directed against Port Hudson in support of Admiral Farragut's attempted forced passage of the batteries there.

The 22nd, along with the rest of Grover's division, next met the enemy at the April 14, 1863 Battle of Irish Bend during the Teche Campaign, suffering only one man wounded. Their stay in New Iberia and St. Martinville exposed the men to the local plantation culture, with a detachment from the regiment helping to quell an apparent slave uprising at the latter place. The 22nd reinforced the Port Hudson trenches after the May 27 assaults failed to carry the Confederate defenses. The regiment supported attacks west of Fort Desperate on June 11 and the north face of the "Priest Cap" sector three days later. Suffering the loss of only six members KIA or mortally wounded over the entire term of its extended service (in contrast to 160 dead by disease) in Louisiana, the men of the 22nd were fortunate to avoid the bloodiest that Port Hudson had to offer and were able to go home soon after its surrender.

Using the O.R. and a range of published and manuscript source materials, historian Ned Smith's The 22nd Maine Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War brings the history of the regiment to readers for the first time. In addition to Smith's narrative, much of the details of the 22nd's wartime odyssey are related through the correspondence of Francis A. Ireland, a young enlisted soldier from Dexter, Maine. Dozens of these letters, addressed to Ireland's family back home, are reproduced in full, adding personal insights into his regiment's camp, garrison, travel, and combat experiences. As with many soldiers sent to the Deep South, disease was a constant companion and concern expressed in Ireland's letters. He also frequently rails against being held past his term of enlistment by the Port Hudson Campaign, and his difficulty in obtaining information about the official muster date (a problem for many Civil War regiments). The book does not provide much in the way of new information about the Bayou Teche and Port Hudson Campaigns, but it does flesh out a few things, such as the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of the 22nd's commander, Colonel Simon Jerrard, for insubordinate language and refusal to obey attack orders at Port Hudson.

The volume is well illustrated and the maps adapted from Official Military Atlas plates. While not ideal, they do give the reader a general idea of where the regiment fought its battles. A lengthy appendix attempts to sort out the reasons behind the variety of enlistment terms of Maine regiments. A complete unit roster can also be found in the appendix section. The text is fully documented, but the bibliography appears to be comprised of only a limited selection of the sources consulted by the author.

It is unusual for a regimental history of a 9-month unit to be published, perhaps even more so for a New England unit that experienced active combat service in the Gulf Department. On those grounds and of its own merit, The 22nd Maine Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War is worthy of recommendation.

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