Sunday, March 28, 2010

Book Review--A Small But Spartan Band

Waters, Zack C. and James C. Edmonds. A Small But Spartan Band: The Florida Brigade in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL. 2010. 254 pages 194 pages of text. Index, bibliography, notes, 21 Illustrations (maps and photos). $29.95.

For those with an interest in Floridians who fought in the Civil War you understand the difficulties in finding good material. For the most part the contributions to the fighting side of the war were limited and source material is difficult to find. This is not to say that Floridians did not do their part for the Confederate effort however. Zack Waters and James Edmonds have spent years researching to try and put an end to the belief that Floridians (or Flowers as they were often called due to Florida being the "Land of Flowers") were cowards in battle as has been put forth in the past. For those Floridians who fought in the Army of Norhtern Virginia they have finally received their due credit.

Traditionally the Florida Brigade has consisted of the 2nd, 5th, and 8th Infantry Regiments and was led by Edward A. Perry (thus Perry's Brigade). Three other regiments (9th, 10th, and 11th) were added later in the war. As the war progressed the brigade was at times led by Col. David Lang and later on a permanent basis by Brigadier General Joseph Finegan. The very end of the war saw T.W. Brevard promoted to Brigadier General. Brevard was commanding at the surrender at Appomattox.

Perry's Brigade was at many of the major battles of the war though they did not participate in all of them. Floridians suffered major losses at battles such as Seven Pines, Sharpsburg, Gettysburg (they took part in Pickett's Charge), The Wilderness, and Cold Harbor. In addition to battlefield casualties the brigade had major issues with sickness and desertion which became more problematic as the war progressed. Sickness during the siege at Petersburg became rampant as poor rations, poor living conditions (including filth and vermin), and bad weather took their toll. The winter of 1864 prompted Dr. Thomas Palmer to ask that the Florida troops be sent home as they were unaccustomed to such conditions. His request was of course denied.

Desertion, or French leave as Waters and Edmonds call it, became a problem for the Confederacy as a whole but a major issue for the Florida brigade. While the above mentioned rations and living conditions played a major part in why men left there were other reasons as well. While a general sense of hoplessness was beginning to take over Waters and Edmonds argue that the home front played a larger part in desertions. While morale was low on the field it was even lower at home. Letters from home described the difficulties those left behind were suffering, including slave issues. Many men were torn between their duty as soldiers and their duty as husbands and fathers. Often being a family man prevailed. It is also argued that a lack of strong command help push men to leave. In the Florida brigade under Finegan many officer positions went unfilled due to both lack of qualified men and also Finegan's failings. Those higher up also must share blame. By not being able to provide food, clothing, and pay to the soldiers the Confederate government must be held accountable.

Waters and Edmonds have shown that the men from Florida who fought in the Civil War were neither cowards nor were they the major leaders. These were average men fighting for what they believed in. All they asked in return was to be treated fairly by their government. Unfortunately issues beyond their control did not allow this to happen. While many deserted the large majority remained and ultimately surrendered their weapons at Appomattox, effectively signalling the end of the war.

Waters and Edmonds have written a much needed work and they are to be commended for the effort it has  taken. The lack of and difficulty in finding Florida material makes this book an achievement to be respected. The notes section runs over 30 pages and contains much valueable information. The bibliography will no doubt be relied upon by generations of future researchers.

There are some areas I feel improvements could be made however. As I have seen other reviewers say more maps could be added. This is a consistant gripe with almost every book however. Cartographers could make a living just off of Civil War books with the way we want maps. While overall the writing is good I found myself confused regarding the Seige of Petersburg and what transpired. I don't know much about this though so it could just be my lack of knowledge of the subject. Col. David Lang played a vital role in Perry's Brigade and I would have like to have had more information on him and also on how and why T. W. Brevard was appointed Brigadier General over him.

A Small But Spartan Band has earned it's place amongst the important works on Florida during the Civil War. I do not believe this to be the final or ultimately most authoritative work we will see however. That being said based upon what I have seen this is the leader and future authors will rely on the research Waters and Edmonds have done. Recommended!

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