Monday, May 20, 2019

New and Noteworthy—The Seventh West Virginia Infantry: Embattled Regiment for the War’s Most Divided State

978-0-7006-2753-0The Seventh West Virginia Infantry: An Embattled Union Regiment From the Civil War’s Most Divided State, David W. Mellott and Mark A. Snell, University of Kansas Press, 354 pages, epilog, 4 appendices, index, 38 illustrations, 11 maps, bibliographic notes, bibliography, $34.95.

Some regiments were known as ‘Bloody’, ‘Hard Luck’, ‘Cowards’; some brigades were known as ‘Iron’, ‘Irish’ or ‘Excelsior’.  There was one Gibraltar Brigade and the Seventh West Virginia was a four year member of it.  The Seventh West Virginia had a four year enrollment of 1,528 soldiers and 315 total deaths in battles, wounds and disease. Of the 315 deaths, 108 were killed outright or mortally wounded on the battlefields. During the Battle of Antietam  the Seventh sustained a casualty rate higher than 45 percent with 12 percent of those killed or mortally wounded when it took flanking fire from Confederate troops in the Sunken [Bloody Lane] Road. 

Through much of the war, the Gibraltar Brigade was composed of the 4th Ohio Infantry, 8th Ohio Infantry, 14th Indiana Infantry, and the 7th West Virginia Infantry. The brigade was augmented by the 24th and 28th New Jersey before the Battle of Fredericksburg. Before the Overland Campaign in early 1864, its ranks were bolstered by the addition of the 1st Delaware, 12th New Jersey, and the 10th New York Battalion. It was commanded by brigadier generals Nathan Kimball, Samuel S. Carroll, and Thomas A. Smyth.  By the battle of Gettysburg, the Seventh West Virginia’s ten companies were consolidated into five companies and recognized as a battalion.

On April 17, 1861, the Virginia state convention in Richmond declared secession. Nearly all delegates from counties west of the Allegheny Mountains voted against secession. On May 15, western Virginia Unionists convened in Wheeling, Virginia located in the northern panhandle of the state. The convention only denounced secession and called for a formal election of delegates. Elected delegates met in the second session on 11 June 11 and on the 20th created the Restored Government of Virginia.

Comparatively speaking, Mellot’s and Snell’s is much like the ‘drum and bugle’ histories similar to Pullen’s 20th Maine, Gibbs’ 11th Pennsylvania Reserves and Moe’s 1st Minnesota regimental histories but Mellot and Snell have crafted their Seventh West Virginia story similar to Gordon’s A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut and Brandt’s 87th Pennsylvania works. Yet, socioeconomic, military, medical, political and personal perspectives are blended together. 

In four appendices the authors provide the age distribution, the birth places and the prewar occupations of all enrolled soldiers. Additionally hospitalization statistics are offered. Statistics, letters, diaries, journals, newspapers, official correspondence are honed and balance to create a compelling story of a distinctly ‘bloody’ regiment. The authors acknowledge the assets offered by Shepherd University [WV] and the George Tyler Moore Center which have compiled both pertinent West Virginian statistical databases and primary source collections. 
The Seventh West Virginia Infantry: An Embattled Union Regiment From the Civil War’s Most Divided State is a splendid contribution to the field of American Civil War regiments. 

From The Publisher: Though calling itself “The Bloody Seventh” after only a few minor skirmishes, the Seventh West Virginia Infantry earned its nickname many times over during the course of the Civil War. Fighting in more battles and suffering more losses than any other West Virginia regiment, the unit was the most embattled Union regiment in the most divided state in the war. Its story, as it unfolds in this book, is a key chapter in the history of West Virginia, the only state created as a direct result of the Civil War. It is also the story of the citizen soldiers, most of them from Appalachia, caught up in the bloodiest conflict in American history.

The Seventh West Virginia fought in the major campaigns in the eastern theater, from Winchester, Antietam, and Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Petersburg. Weaving military, social, and political history, The Seventh West Virginia Infantry details strategy, tactics, battles, campaigns, leaders, and the travails of the rank and file. It also examines the circumstances surrounding events, mundane and momentous alike such as the soldiers’ views on the Emancipation Proclamation, West Virginia Statehood, and Lincoln’s re-election. The product of decades of research, the book uses statistical analysis to profile the Seventh’s soldiers from a socio-economic, military, medical, and personal point of view; even as its authors consult dozens of primary sources, including soldiers’ living descendants, to put a human face on these “sons of the mountains.” The result is a multilayered view, unique in its scope and depth, of a singular Union regiment on and off the Civil War battlefield—its beginnings, its role in the war, and its place in history and memory.

About the Authors
David W. Mellott is a lawyer in Cleveland, Ohio. Several of his ancestors fought in the Seventh West Virginia.
Mark A. Snell is the retired professor of history and director of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War, Shepherd University, in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Snell is the author of many works on Civil War history, including West Virginia and the Civil War: Mountaineers Are Always Free.

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