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Book Reviews

These are some reviews from a recent issue of The Civil War News:

 


Third Alabama! The Civil War Memoir of Brigadier General Cullen Andrews Battle, CSA.

Edited by Brandon H. Beck.

Illustrated, maps, footnotes, appendices, bibliography, index, 180 pp., 1999. University of Alabama Press, Box 8783380, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0380, $29.95 plus shipping.



Students of the Army of Northern Virginia, accustomed to focusing on its legen-dary achievements in 1862-63, are often taken aback by the array of unfamiliar names which appear in the war’s final year. Douglas Southall Freeman characterized this pe-riod as "the darkening autumn of command," with the newly promoted general officers forming "a company of strangers" to most readers.

Third Alabama! allows one of these ciphers, Brig. Gen. Cullen Andrews Battle, to partially emerge from this obscurity through his own words.

The cornerstone of the slim book is a previously unpublished manuscript written (and revised at least once) by Battle shortly before his death in 1905. The result is not the expected autobiography, but what editor Brandon Beck describes as "a memoir of his association with his regiment," one which spanned the entirety of the war.

Battle began his military career as a member of one of the state militia companies which were formed into the 3rd Alabama, served as its major upon mustering into Confederate service, ascended to its colonelcy after Seven Pines, and served (following Edward O’Neal’s disastrous performance at Gettysburg) through Appomattox as com-mander of the brigade to which it was attached.

Third Alabama! abounds with anecdotal richness, and the events described lose nothing in emotional weight for having been set down some 40 years after their occurrence. Battle’s account of the regiment’s formation and its first months in the Virginia Theater captures perfectly the excitement and confusion of transforming raw volunteers into disciplined soldiers, and he is most evocative when describing the con-ditions of a march or an incident in camp.

His impressions of fellow officers are also of interest, most notably his praise for Robert Rodes and John B. Gordon as well as a more critical (but balanced) assessment of Jubal Early’s generalship in the Valley Campaign of 1864.

Unfortunately, Battle’s frequent absences from the battlefield (he was wounded at Seven Pines, South Mountain and Spotsylvania, missed the fighting at Chancellors-ville after being thrown from his horse, and was on sick leave during the Bristoe Sta-tion and Mine Run actions) deprive his narrative of first-hand impressions at many key moments in the regiment’s career, omissions rectified only somewhat by his use of after-action reports from the Official Records to fill in these gaps. Beck provides a short collection of 3rd Alabama soldiers’ letters from these periods in one of the appendices.

Unlike many "edited" manuscripts (in which little has been done beyond correcting the author’s spelling and punctuation), Third Alabama! abounds with highly detailed explanatory notes. The publisher is to be commended for incorporating these as footnotes rather than endnotes, preserving the flow of Battle’s text.

Computer-drawn maps further enhance the book, though as their function is merely to fix the position of the regiment in a given engagement, readers lacking a broader understanding of particular battles may find them of limited value.

The dearth of autobiographical detail provided by Battle is offset by Beck’s compre-hensive introduction to each chapter, which provides a capsule history of the general’s career and creates smoother transitions than existed in the original manuscript. Less successful is Beck’s unfortunate tendency in the passages to summarize the chapter’s contents in advance, depriving Battle’s material of some of its freshness.

That aside, Third Alabama! provides a unique portrait of a hard-fighting regiment’s four-year ordeal. For those interested in a view of the war from midway up the chain of command, Battle’s reminiscences will prove worth reading.


Joseph Pierro

Joseph Pierro is active in numerous battlefield preservation and in-terpretation efforts and is the founder of the (New Jersey) Civil War Library and Research Center's James I. Robertson Jr. Prize for Con-federate History.


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