Edward J. Hagerty. Collis' Zouaves: The 114th Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997. xv + 357 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8071-2199-3.
Reviewed by Kevin S. Gould (American Military University)
Published on H-PCAACA (July, 1999)
Edward J. Hagerty makes an important contribution to Civil War social history in Collis' Zouaves: The 114th Pennsylvania Infantry in the Civil War. Combining extensive primary research with quantitative analysis, Dr. Hagerty tells the story of a special volunteer regiment: the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry. Its distinctive Zouave uniform, adopted from the elite Algerian troops, and the social background of its members distinguished the 114th from other regiments.
In contrast to typical Union soldiers, the majority of the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteers were neither farmers nor foreigners. Colonel Charles Henry Tucker Collis was a Philadelphia lawyer and most of his enlisted soldiers were skilled laborers. Because of their skilled background, the Pennsylvania Volunteers were more highly educated and more financially stable than the typical Union soldiers. As a result, Hagerty finds reasons for enlisting other then monetary gain. Hagerty shows that family members and professional associates enlisted in groups. With the small bounties offered at the time of the regiment's mustering in April, 1862, Hagerty finds that ideology and peer pressure induced most of the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteers to forsake families and stable, if not lucrative, jobs.
He shows through the Zouaves' letters that they joined either for such idealistic reasons as preserving the Union, ensuring liberty and democracy, and maintaining the American example, or out of family and professional loyalty. One especially motivated enlistee experienced a vision of George Washington entering his home and commanding him to join the Union Army.
The Zouaves participated in the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Petersburg. While these campaigns provide the historical backdrop for their story, Hagerty tells the soldiers' stories through their letters and journals. The little events--picket duty, hut building, parade and drill--related through the soldiers' letters capture the reader and draw him into the soldiers' world. The reader empathizes for the soldiers as they relate the struggle of the march, the frustration of retreat, and the disappointment of a meager 1864 Thanksgiving dinner. Hagerty conveys the soldiers' pride in themselves and their unit in combat. Hagerty meticulously describes the Zouaves' combat but is best at telling the stories around the battles--such as an episode of two shivering Zouaves huddled under a blanket on the field of Chancellorsville, soundly sleeping within a few feet of their dead and dying comrades.
Hagerty discusses an aspect of Army life ignored in early regimental histories: the numbers and motives of deserters. Hagerty expertly presents quantitative analysis comparing regimental desertion early in the war compared with desertion throughout the war. He analyzes the deserters' ages and occupational backgrounds, desertion among wounded compared with the uninjured and desertion among family members in the regiment. Hagerty concludes that while the regiment was composed primarily of skilled and semi-skilled native-born members, the propensity to desert was evenly distributed among all age groups and skill levels. Hagerty disputes claims by other Civil War historians that foreign-born soldiers deserted in greater numbers than native-born soldiers did. The statistics Hagerty presents show, in the case of the 114th, that foreign-born soldiers deserted in proportionally fewer numbers than their representation as a total percentage of the regiment. In contrast, native-born soldiers deserted in numbers greater than their proportional representation within the regiment.
Charles H.T. Collis is the central figure in the story. An Irish-born abolitionist who arrived in Philadelphia as a fifteen year-old in 1853, he was a politically connected colonel and lawyer by the age of 25. Collis' use of political allies demonstrates factionalism within the Army of the Potomac and the importance of political connections to ensure survival and promotion. His defense before a court-martial comprises a major section of the book. As Collis' fate hangs on the opinion of his peers, the reader is held in suspense throughout the judicial process. Hagerty deftly leads the reader through the complicated and politically charged judicial process that Collis navigated as he presented his defense.
Edward J. Hagerty has produced a model in military and social history. By relying on primary records and correspondence, he presents the soldiers stories in compelling, succinct prose. His social and military analysis is original, but also supported by numerous renowned historians. Readers interested in the soldiers' view of the Civil War will find a scholarly and satisfying treatment in Collis' Zouaves.
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Kevin S. Gould. Review of Hagerty, Edward J., Collis' Zouaves: The 114th Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Civil War.
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