The Original Iron Brigade
By Thomas Reed
(Web Exclusive 03/29/12 Civil War News)
Photos, map, notes, appendix, bibliography, index, 223 pp., 2011, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, www.rlpgbooks.com, $80.
Many Civil War historians have turned their attention in recent years to unit studies. These studies have ranged from a single regiment to an army corps. A common thread in the books, particularly ones devoted to a regiment, has been the use of previously unpublished material, local newspapers, and compiled service records at state and national archives.
In the best of these efforts, the result has been rich, detailed accounts of citizen soldiers trapped in the horrors of war.
The Original Iron Brigade chronicles the service of five regiments — 14th Brooklyn; 22nd, 24th, and 30th New York, and 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters. Organized as a brigade in the summer of 1861, the unit served in the Army of Virginia and then in the First Corps, Army of the Potomac.
It was engaged in combat at Second Manassas, South Mountain and Antietam. In that span of three weeks, the regiments lost two-thirds of their officers and men.
The unofficial designation or nickname of “Iron Brigade” resulted from a 34-mile march in 23 hours in April 1862. It would appear, based on the author Thomas Reed’s description, that the members of the brigade called themselves the “Iron Brigade.”
Reed offers no further explanation of the designation’s origins. He cites only one source, a manuscript history by a member, for the appellation. By contrast, soldiers of the more famous Iron Brigade, “those damned black hats,” were given the name by George B. McClellan.
Reed has done commendable research on the five regiments, utilizing manuscript collections, newspapers and government documents. He provides a description of each regiment’s organization, profiles the ranking officers, and quotes the common soldiers throughout the narrative. He writes well, and his descriptions of combat are solid.
This is a worthwhile unit history. The $80 price of the book, however, is astonishing. Unfortunately, readers may be inclined to pass on this book at that price.
Reviewer: Jeffry D. Wert
Jeffry D. Wert is a retired Pennsylvania high school teacher. He is the author of eight books on the Civil War, including his recent Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J.E.B. Stuart.