The glorious but sobering history of a single Union regiment in the US Civil War. Unlike most annalists, who offer big-picture perspectives on the bitter belligerency, Wilkinson focuses on a single unit--the 57th Massachusetts--from its recruitment, training, and flag-waving send-off early in 1864 through the grisly shocks of combat in the murderous Wilderness campaign. Before the Confederacy's collapse, the men of the 57th found themselves in the thick of the fighting at Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, the siege of Petersburg, and other major engagements, including the battle of the Crater, where the participation of black troops enraged rebel defenders. Like most outfits comprising the Army of the Potomac, the 57th suffered fearful casualties on the killing fields of Virginia; disease, captivity, desertion thinned their ranks as well. By the numbers, the 57th had higher battlefield losses than any regiment in the federal forces. While researching his family's genealogy during the mid-1980's, Wilkinson (who is not a professional historian) came across a forebear who had served with the 57th. His interest aroused, the author went on to compile a detailed record of the unit's odyssey from diaries, letters home, and archival sources. There's nothing the least bit amateurish about the resultant labor of love, which, among other distinctions, captures the episodic horrors as well as workaday misery and enervating tedium of front-line soldiering. The absorbing narrative also sheds considerable light on the lot of Irish immigrants, who accounted for a significant proportion of the regiment's volunteers. An altogether splendid contribution to military history. The text has contemporary photographs and maps (not seen), plus an appendix with profiles of every one of the regiment's 1,000-odd members.