Union Infantryman vs Confederate Infantryman

'When Osprey commissioning editor Nick Reynolds first mooted the Combat series idea, I was intrigued by the prospect of reconstructing the experience of specific Civil War regiments in battle on a minute-by-minute basis. During a meeting with Nick we agreed that Osprey had done nothing like this before and that it would be blazing new trails. Although writing at such a detailed level has obviously presented me with new challenges compared with my previous Osprey books, I was able to lean on earlier experience writing my Civil War series of South Carolina regimental histories, which I self-published in the 1990s. I also knew I would be able to delve into my personal archive of period newspapers on microfilm, built up over the past 25 years, which is studded with letters written by enlisted men of both Confederate and Union armies describing in detail their battle experience. Much of this material has not been re-published since the Civil War years. A plethora of digitized period newspaper also exists on the internet today which I was also able to access. If available, published regimental histories were also essential.

The biggest challenge in planning this book was choosing the most meaningful and appropriate early/mid/late Civil War battles, and then concentrating on the units for which the most relevant material was available. As Peter Dennis has already shared the development of his excellent artwork entitled ‘Remember Ellsworth!’ on this forum, I thought it appropriate to explain reasons why I chose First Bull Run/First Manassas as the first of three battles featured in the book. Apart from the fact that the events at Bull Run on July 21, 1861 hold a huge fascination for me, I knew I had to concentrate on the turning point when the brigade of General Thomas J. Jackson stood like a ‘stonewall’ and led the counter-charge which turned the tide of battle, bringing a resounding victory for the Confederacy. A great challenge was choosing two opposing regiments that definitely clashed with each other in what was a very confusing battle.

As I wanted to include a colourful zouave unit in the book, I chose the 11th New York Volunteers (First Regiment of Fire Zouaves) as my Union regiment, while the South had to be represented by the 33rd Virginia which definitely grappled with the New Yorkers over the guns of Rickett’s battery on Henry House Hill. As research progressed I realized that the general impression I had formed that the Fire Zouaves had not performed well in combat, and had been overwhelmed by a Confederate cavalry charge, was not necessarily the case. In fact, eyewitness accounts found in the New York Times of July 26, 1861, indicate that some of the Zouaves put their training to good use in order to repel cavalry by forming three ranks in a drill-book manoeuvre called ‘Rally by platoon’. Although this scenario could not be used as a subject for Peter’s artwork in the book as it was not an infantry-on-infantry encounter, it still provided a fresh insight into part of what really happened on and around Henry House Hill, and rather contradicts both contemporary and modern artists’ representations of the performance of the Fire Zouaves at First Bull Run.

Further research into events on Henry House Hill revealed that although the charge of the 33rd Virginia, as specifically depicted in Peter’s artwork, did indeed turn the tide of battle that day, the action of this regiment brought about the wrath of ‘Stonewall’ Jackson because its commander, Colonel Arthur C. Cummings, disobeyed orders which were to wait until the enemy were about 30 yards distant and permitted his men to charge while the red-shirted Zouaves were still about 70 yards away. Cummings later justified his decision by stating that ‘the most trying position that raw men, and even the best disciplined and bravest could be placed in, was to be required to remain still, doing nothing and receiving the enemy’s fire without returning it.’ Seemingly as punishment for their premature charge, the 33rd Virginia appears to have received little attention in the Confederate press during July and August of 1861, which saw the publication of casualty lists of the other regiments in the ‘Stonewall Brigade’ and celebrated a resounding victory for the South. Clearly, brigade commanders did not expect their regimental commanders to show initiative at this early stage in the Civil War.'

CBT 2 Union Infantryman vs Confederate Infantryman: The Civil War in the East 1861-65 is due out in September.