Book Review: That Body of Brave Men: The U.S. Regular Infantry and the Civil War in the West
An active duty US Army officer provides an in-depth look at some oft-neglected areas of the American Civil War. How does Mark Johnsonís chronicle of the experiences of the United States Regular Infantry Regiments that fought in the Western Theater during the American Civil War measure up to other accounts of campaigns, battles and camp life?
That Body of Brave Men chronicles the experiences of the United States Regular Infantry Regiments that fought in the Western Theater during the American Civil War from 1861-1865. The Regular Regiments fought at the major battles of Shiloh, Stones River (Murfreesboro), Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and Atlanta. The author, a regular US Army Officer, makes a persuasive case that the roles played by the 15th, 16th, 18th and 19th Regular Infantry Regiments in these and countless other battles and skirmishes have largely been neglected or misrepresented over the years. A detailed account, the book covers not only the battles, but also life in the US Army, which includes the travails of camp and campaign, political and bureaucratic struggles, and the regulars' relations with the volunteer regiments. These day to day events are presented in the framework of the overall campaign in the West, keeping the reader well grounded in the overall narrative of the American Civil War.
Presentation and Graphics
The book is about 650 pages long, with over 130 pages of introduction, prologue, appendices, notes, and bibliography. There is a 16 page section of photographs on glossy paper, and these are almost all pictures of officers and enlisted men. Some of the photos are faded with age, but all are clear enough to be informative. There are some nice period illustrations such as recruiting posters and drawings from magazines. That Body of Brave Men is loaded with well-drawn campaign and battle maps and I found them very helpful in following along with the narrative. Each main battle map shows units broken down by division or brigade, but inset maps at the battalion level that highlight the regulars, allowing a close focus on that part of the fighting.
That Body of Brave Men actually begins prior to the surrender of Fort Sumter, South Carolina with the travails of the US Regular units that found themselves in Confederate territory after the secession of Texas in 1861. Here we are introduced to many of the officers who would play a role in the formation and operations of the US Infantry units in the Western Theater.
The book then details the organization of the four regular regiments in the West. Each regiment had a notional strength of 2,444 men, with three 800 man battalions divided into eight companies. Headquartered in Columbus, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis, the 15th, 16th, 18th and 19th Regulars did not deploy as whole regiments. Instead battalions and companies were parceled out as needed throughout the theater as they became available. Battalions were seldom anywhere near full strength and never took even fifty percent of their authorized numbers into battle. From 1861-1862, there were two concentrations of regular troops in the West in the Army of the Ohio under General Don Carlos Buell. Major John H. King, 15th US Infantry, commanded a battalion each of the 15th, 16th and 19th Infantry in Rousseau’s 4th Brigade of McCook’s 2nd Division; while Lt Col Oliver R. Shepherd, 18th US Infantry, commanded two battalions of the 18th Infantry in McCook’s 3rd Brigade of Thomas’ 1st Division.
The first major action that the regulars participated in was the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862. Rousseau’s Brigade arrived at Pittsburgh Landing the evening of 6th April and was heavily engaged throughout the second day of the battle, with the regular battalions playing a prominent part in the Union counterattack and suffering close to twenty percent casualties. In this and other battles in the book, the author does a superb job of describing the action, especially at the tactical level. The mixture of narrative and individual recollections is well balanced and I found the result to be a vibrant and informative account.