Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Coffman: "GOING BACK THE WAY THEY CAME: The Phillips Georgia Legion Cavalry Battalion"

[ Going Back the Way They Came: The Phillips Georgia Legion Cavalry Battalion by Richard M. Coffman (Mercer University Press, 2011). Gray cloth, maps, illustrations, roster, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:139/326. ISBN:978-0-88146-187-9 $35]

Given that the artillery, cavalry, and infantry components of Confederate legions tended not to serve together as a unit in the field, it is fitting that published legion histories often focus on the battalion level. Recent examples include Cobb's Legion Cavalry: A History and Roster of the Ninth Georgia Volunteers in the Civil War by Harriet Bey Mesic (McFarland, 2009), O. Lee Sturkey's volume from Broadfoot Publishing's new South Carolina Regimental-Roster Set series A History of the Hampton Legion Infantry (2009), and Richard Coffman's To Honor These Men: A History of the Phillips Georgia Legion Infantry Battalion (Mercer, 2007). This year Coffman revisits the Phillips Legion with his new book Going Back the Way They Came: The Phillips Georgia Legion Cavalry Battalion.

Going Back the Way They Came is a unit study with a format hearkening back to the H.E. Howard regimental roster series for Virginia units. However, Coffman's research and roster presentations greatly surpass in depth those of the typical Howard entry, with much of the manuscript material extensively quoted in the text and published for the first time. The battalion history portion of the book is brief, running only 112 pages and covering the troopers's 1861-62 stints in Western Virginia and South Carolina, as well as their service with the Army of Northern Virginia during the 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Bristoe, Mine Run, and Overland campaigns before finally ending up back where they started in the Carolinas. Within the narrative, the author often refers the reader to his earlier and much larger work To Honor These Men, a reminder that, although each is a readable standalone work, both books are best appreciated as a set.

The second half of Going Back the Way They Came is largely comprised of the legion cavalry's company rosters. For these, Coffman was able to include detailed service record information for the majority of the officers and men. Other appendices include the legion's organizational history and additional rosters for the four mounted companies that consolidated with the legion in 1864 (Love's 4th Alabama Battalion -- the "Lovelies").

Presentation is another positive quality of the book, from the handsome gray cloth and fancy endpapers to the welcome decision to go with footnotes over endnotes. A gallery of carte de visites adds to the visual flavor, along with a number of general purpose maps. Combining a fast moving narrative with useful supplementary material for researchers, Going Back the Way They Came is a fine addition to the literature of Confederate eastern theater cavalry units and operations.

Other recent CWBA reviews of Mercer titles:
* I Will Give Them One More Shot: Ramsey's First Regiment Georgia Volunteers
* The Battle of Resaca: Atlanta Campaign, 1864
* Volunteers' Camp and Field Book
* Griswoldville
* Civil War Macon: The History of a Confederate City

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