Friday, August 31, 2007

Harvard’s Civil War: The History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry

by Richard Miller

From the publisher:

“Miller makes a persuasive case . . . Miller's book [is] among the best of the hundreds of Civil War regimental histories.” — New York Review of Books

The Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was one of the most influential northern units in the Army of the Potomac. Its nickname, the Harvard Regiment, was derived from the preponderance of Crimson-connected officers on its roster. The fortunes of war placed this unit at the lethal crossroads of nearly every major battle of the Army of the Potomac from Ball’s Bluff (1861) through Grant’s Overland Campaign. After going through its baptismal fire at the debacle of Ball’s Bluff, the Harvard Regiment was the first to plant its colors on the Confederate works at Yorktown; fought McClellan’s rear guard actions during the Seven Days’ Campaign; was mauled in Antietam’s West Woods, on Fredericksburg’s streets, and on Marye’s Heights; faced Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg; and was at the deadly intersection of the Orange and Plank Roads at the Battle of the Wilderness.

But the regiment’s influence far transcended its battle itinerary. Its officers were drawn from elite circles of New England politics, literature, and commerce. This was the regiment of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.; of his cousins, William Lowell Putnam and James Jackson Lowell, both nephews of James Russell Lowell; of Paul Joseph Revere and his brother Edward H. R. Revere, both grandsons of Paul Revere; and of Sumner Paine, great-grandson of Declaration of Independence signer Robert Treat Paine.

Because its officers were highly educated, many of the Harvard Regiment left copious collections of diaries, memoirs, and letters, many published. Yet the history of the Twentieth Massachusetts comprises a social document beyond the evocative and tragic recollections of its highly literate leadership. Although the Boston elite dominated the regiment’s officer corps, half of its recruits were immigrants, mostly German and Irish. The ethnic tension that dogged the regiment during its existence reflected an uneasy mix. The regiment included Copperhead and abolitionist gentlemen, radical German émigrés from the failed Revolution of 1848, the sons of prominent Republicans, and the sons of Lincoln-haters. Miller adroitly weaves a social history of the period into his narrative, offering readers a fascinating backdrop that enriches vivid descriptions of battlefield triumphs and catastrophes.

The influence of the Harvard regiment continued to reverberate long after the war. Commemorated in poems, speeches and histories by such distinguished figures as Herman Melville and John Greenleaf Whittier, and by alumni such as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and William Francis Bartlett, the experiences of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry would define how later generations of Americans understood the Civil War.

“Richard F. Miller's Harvard's Civil War is one of the finest regimental studies to appear in years. Based upon extensive archival research and finely written, Miller's book is a model work on a Civil War unit. The narrative flows in the descriptions of regimental personalities, of internal conflicts, and of engagements. The voices of the unit's officers and men fill the pages. Miller's accomplishment is simply outstanding.” — The Civil War News

“In Harvard's Civil War, Richard F. Miller gives an account of the Harvard-officered 20th Massachusetts Infantry that will appeal as much to Civil War buffs as to loyal alums. This is not the better-known 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the black regiment led by Robert Gould Shaw, or Charles Russell Lowell Jr.'s Second Massachusetts Cavalry. Seeing action in many of the major battles of the war, it was known as 'The Bloody 20th.” — Boston Globe

“[A] wonderful addition to the existing list of Civil War unit histories. It is a fine and moving book about an important regiment from New England and is recommended for all students of the Civil War, whether they are Boston Brahmins or the children of Irish millworkers.” — The New England Quarterly

“Richard Miller's Harvard's Civil War is quite simply the most outstanding Civil War regimental history I have read. One of the best units in the Army of the Potomac, officered by Harvard alumni, the 20th Massachusetts Infantry fought in all of that army's battles and earned plaudits to match its heavy casualties. Walt Whitman's prediction that the real war would never get in the books was wrong; the real war is in this book.” — James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom

“Harvard contributed more than its share of soldiers to the Union army during the Civil War, many of whom served in the 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment at battles such as Antietam and Gettysburg. Anyone who believes the conflict was a 'rich man's war and a poor man's fight' will be enlightened by this book, which draws on a wealth of testimony from Harvard's men in the 20th to tell an engaging, dramatic story.” — Gary W. Gallagher, John L. Nau III Professor of History, University of Virginia

Independent Publisher Book Awards, Honorable Mention, best Regional Nonfiction, U.S. Northeast 2006 Finalist for Lincoln Prize // Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship 2006

RICHARD F. MILLER is an independent scholar. He is the author of A Carrier at War: On Board the USS Kitty Hawk in the Iraq War (2005) and co-author (with Robert F. Mooney) of The Civil War: The Nantucket Experience (1994). Miller has written about the Massachusetts gentlemen of the Harvard Regiment in Historical Journal Of Massachusetts (2002) and the New England Quarterly (2002 and 2003), and has written on numerous other Civil War-related topics as well. A Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Miller is a graduate of Harvard and Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

From CWBN:
This release information marks the issue of a paperback edition of the title.

We wholeheartedly recommend this work in McPherson's words as "the most outstanding Civil War regimental history" we have encountered. It is wonderfully accurate on the micro level, on the tactical level, and in its judicious weighing of sources and material.