Phillip E. Faller. The Indiana Jackass Regiment in the Civil War: A History of the 21st Infantry/1st Heavy Artillery Regiment, with a Roster. Jefferson: McFarland, 2013. 375 pp. $45.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7864-7046-4.
Reviewed by Stephen E. Towne (Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis)
Published on H-CivWar (July, 2014)
Commissioned by Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz
All about the Regiment
Regimental histories, done well, can be illuminating reads. As historian Gerald J. Prokopowicz has noted in All for the Regiment: The Army of the Ohio (2001), the Civil War regiment was the fundamental unit that bound soldiers together into effective fighting forces. Many scholars have studied the rebellion by employing the regiment as a subject population for close ethnographical scrutiny. Important findings have emerged relating to a regiment’s soldiers’ politics, motivations for volunteering to go to war, or relationships to civilian populations back home. Studies focused on a particular unit’s battles with camp boredom, wounds, or illness have contributed greatly to historical understanding. Some regimental works steer clear of social history to hew closely to old-fashioned analysis of campaigns and battles. Today, with the “new military history” firmly entrenched, many regimental histories benefit from a felicitous blend of social history and narrative description of what units did on the battlefield. In the aggregate, recent regimental histories have added much to scholarly understanding of both the military and social/political sides of the Civil War.
Alas, the book under review, Phillip E. Faller’s The Indiana Jackass Regiment in the Civil War, does not fall in the happy category described above. His subject is an interesting unit of volunteers from Indiana who started out as infantrymen and fought bravely as such at Baton Rouge in August 1862. But in early 1863 they received orders from Major General Nathaniel P. Banks to be reorganized, reinforced, and equipped as the 1st Indiana Heavy Artillery regiment to fight with massive siege guns. They went on to fight their guns in a number of battles and skirmishes in Louisiana, ending the war bombarding Confederate forts guarding Mobile, Alabama. In telling their story, Faller avoids engagement with the historiography of either the military or social sides of the war. For example, he neither explains nor puts into context why Banks ordered their switch to artillery; nor does he recount the undoubtedly involved process of training infantrymen to use the big guns. The thoughts of the soldiers about their transition to artillerymen are dispatched in one short paragraph.
Faller should be praised for undertaking extensive archival research to unearth records of and about the unit. He found many records in the National Archives and in repositories in many states. But that hard work goes to telling about battles in minute detail, almost cannon blast by blast. Sometimes the reader is informed about how many projectiles each battery in the regiment fired on a particular day in a long siege. Faller does not step back to place the efforts of the regiment into perspective, failing to ask what contribution this regiment made to battles or campaigns. While we are told the soldiers frequented the brothels in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the reader will find no meaningful analysis of their views about the southern men and women they met, black and white, nothing about the soldiers’ political views, no elucidation of their motivations to fight, and no demographical outline of who the soldiers were. Faller simply tells a straightforward, blow-by-blow, “just the facts, ma’am” account. His account is devoid of biographical sketches of any of the soldiers, including regimental commanders. It features no composite portrait of the men, nor offers conclusions about their effectiveness as a unit and its contribution to the war effort. Faller’s interest in the artillery branch of both warring armies often leads him to lose his focus on the regiment and delve into the actions of other artillery units. Consequently and confusingly, the Indiana unit gets lost in the exchanges of solid shot and shell thrown back and forth in battle. Moreover, the reader does not learn how artillerymen—and the men of the 1st Indiana Heavy Artillery in particular—performed their duties. Again, his disengagement from scholarship cannot place his work among those that analyze the effectiveness of artillery in the war.
In sum, the Civil War scholar will not learn much from examining this book. If, however, one seeks a daily chronicle of a unique Indiana unit that exchanged its infantry arms for siege guns and spent most of the war in Louisiana, this book will satisfy.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-civwar.
Stephen E. Towne. Review of Faller, Phillip E., The Indiana Jackass Regiment in the Civil War: A History of the 21st Infantry/1st Heavy Artillery Regiment, with a Roster.
H-CivWar, H-Net Reviews.
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