Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New and Noteworthy-- Louisiana Tigers in The Gettysburg Campaign

The Louisiana Tigers in the Gettysburg Campaign, June-July 1863, Scott Mingus, Louisiana State University Press, 352 pages, 8 maps, notes, bibliography, index, $34.95

Certainly The Louisiana Tigers in the Gettysburg Campaign, June-July 1863 will be one of the highlights of both the Battle of Gettysburg and Civil War literature in 2009. Mingus' work advances both the history of the Louisiana Tigers and the history of the 1863 Pennsylvania Campaign. Reminiscent of the best brigade histories, such as Nolan's Iron Brigade, Roberston's Stonewall Brigade and Wert's dual history of the Stonewall and the Iron brigades, Mingus relies heavily on the soldiers' accounts of their travels and travails.

Wheat's Tigers, the predecessor of the Louisiana Tigers, is acknowledged in the first pages of the book. In 1861 Company B (The Tigers) of the 1st Louisiana Special Battalion took the nickname in New Orleans and fought in Wheat's Louisiana Battalion at the First Manassas. In the spring of 1862 the battalion was brigaded with the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th Louisiana regiments. This brigade became the First Louisiana Brigade (Louisiana Tigers) on the Peninsula when the battalion was decimated and Wheat killed.

One of the strengths of Mingus' book is that it balances the Pennsylvania campaign's history with the brigade's history. The author describes the campaign to the extent that the brigade is fully in context at all times. Mingus never gives the reader more than is needed regarding the campaign. Having read Trudeau's, Sears' or Coddington's campaign histories, a reader will have enough background information to enjoy The Louisiana Tigers in the Gettysburg Campaign.

In Mingus' book, the Louisiana Tigers never operate in a vacuum. When finishing the work, the reader will have a good understanding of the Tigers' opponents also. The march of the Tigers from Chancellorsville to the Potomac is succinctly covered. The Battle of Second Winchester is thoroughly described with Milroy and his weary Federal boys fully depicted. Mingus cites participants' recollection that of all the battles of the Army of Northern Virginia, Second Winchester was the best planned and executed of them all.

Mingus does not limit his account to the testimony of the Louisianians regarding themselves. The testimony of the civilian witnesses and the Federal soldiers who negotiated with and fought against the Tigers is regularly offered by Mingus. These primary sources are among the best descriptions in the book. The accounts of the Louisiana sharpshooter in the McCreary house, the death of the 8th Louisiana flag bearer whose canteen carried whiskey laced with gunpowder, the escape of a Louisiana deserter through a Rebel picket line on July 3, the lonely death of a sick and worn out campaigner in in the care of a Gettysburg doctor in an Adams County farm house are among the many anecdotes that lift The Louisiana Tigers in the Gettysburg Campaign, June-July 1863 above the plethora of Gettysburg books that appear every year.

CWL appreciates Mingus' attention to the calendar and the clock throughout the story. Another strength are the appendices: order of battle, official reports, casualties, weather, chronology. The eight maps show the advance of the brigade from the Mason Dixon line to York, Pennsylvania and then to Heidlersburg, Adams County. Unfortunately other maps showing the fighting on July 1 and 2, the street fighting of July 2 and 3, and the retreat routes are not offered. In particular the July 2nd assault path of the First Louisiana Brigade from Winebrenner's Run to the east slope of East Cemetery Hill needs a map. Owners of Trudeau's Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage will have sufficient maps. Also the McElfresh watercolor map with the crops and fence lines of East Cemetery Hill is very helpful. There are no photographs or illustrations in the book. Portraits of Harry T. Hays, the rank and file soldiers, or civilian structures though not necessary are always helpful to a reader.

Image: The Samuel McCreary House taken from Baltimore Street. Lefever Street (known at the time as Winebrenner Alley) is running from right to left. The fence has bullet holes in it. This view was taken facing southeast sometime in the morning circa 1890. This photograph was taken by William H. Tipton and is in the files of Gettysburg National Military Park.
Image Source: Gettysburg Daily