An immensely affecting evocation of the military experience during the Civil War, which tracks a small band of Union...


ON MANY A BLOODY FIELD: Four Years in the Iron Brigade

An immensely affecting evocation of the military experience during the Civil War, which tracks a small band of Union soldiers over the entire course of the belligerency. Drawing on personal papers, archival material, and allied sources, veteran Civil War historian Gaff (Brave Men's Tears, not reviewed) offers a start-to-finish account of those who served in Company B of the 19th Indiana, a regiment that along with other all-volunteer outfits from Michigan and Wisconsin comprised the so-called Iron Brigade. Recruited as the Richmond City Greys shortly after Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, the unit went into action in the summer of 1862, at Brawner Farm and the second battle of Bull Run. As an integral part of a storied legion in the Army of the Potomac, it subsequently campaigned (with considerable distinction and appalling losses from disease as well as rebel muskets) at South Mountain, Antietam, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Laurel Hill, and Weldon Railroad (a gateway to the South's capital). In addition to providing meticulous reconstructions of the many battles in which the Hoosiers fought, the author recounts how they relieved the tedium of winter camps with bad whiskey, baseball, foraging, and games of chance. Gaff also details the adverse reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation of troops who had rallied around the flag to quell an insurrection, not to free black slaves. Covered as well are the ways in which Washington induced veterans to remain in the ranks once their three-year enlistments were up, the unhappy lot of POWs, the persistent problem of desertion, the political games played by general officers, the paperwork snafus that seem to afflict any military organization larger than a squad, and the informal ceasefires often arranged by Northern and Southern pickets. American history on a human scale, and an estimable close-up contribution to a genre overcrowded with big-picture assessments.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1997


Page Count: 618

Publisher: Indiana Univ.

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1996

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