Paid Advertisement
Historynet/feed historynet feedback facebook link Weider History Group RSS feed Weider Subscriptions Historynet Home page

The Story of the 1st and 2nd South Carolina

Originally published by America's Civil War magazine. Published Online: August 11, 2009 
Print Friendly
0 comments FONT +  FONT -

Firebrands of Liberty: The Story of Two Black
Regiments That Changed
the Course of the Civil War

by Stephen V. Ash
W.W. Norton, 2008, $25.95

Seldom does a Civil War story come along today that is historically significant and yet still relatively unknown. Firebrand of Liberty, a new book by historian Stephen Ash, is one such account.

Tapping a fertile collection of primary and secondary sources, Ash has created the first detailed modern ac­count of the 1st and 2nd South Carolina, two of the earliest black units to fight for the Union. The 1st and 2nd were composed primarily of freed blacks and former slaves from the coastal Carolina region, ledlike the more famous 54th Massachussetts—by white officers.

Subscribe Today

Subscribe to America's Civil War magazine

The colonel of the 1st South, as the first and more famous of two regiments became known, was Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who penned detailed firsthand accounts of the organization and training of the controversial unit. Ash supplements Higginson's observations with other diaries, newspapers, letters and official records to tell the story of Higginson's daring and courageous regiment, which was ultimately vindicated after some early disappointment.

The scholarship in this book is impeccable. Ash has woven together an authoritative account with logic and care. His extensive use of multiple primary sources leaves few gaps in the flow of events as the 1st and 2nd invade Florida, capture Jacksonville, liberate some slaves and then are mysteriously recalled to South Carolina at the pinnacle of their success
As with every work of historical research, there are questions that can and should be raised. The main question that is debatable about the book is the degree to which the overall strategic significance of the campaign can be assessed. Ash maintains that the success of the two black regiments changed the course of the war, tying it directly to President Lin­coln's decision through the War De­partment on March 25th, 1863, to begin vigorous recruiting of blacks into the military across the country and occupied territories. He admits, however, that this is speculative, and places it in an appendix to clearly separate it from the scholarship of the Florida campaign, which is already well documented.

Another factor for readers of popular Civil War non­fiction will be the level of military activity. Two regiments, entering into nonpitched battles, occupying towns without opposition, drilling endlessly, ultimately may seem anticlimactic to readers who expect cavalry charges, gallantry under fire and dramatic death-bed speeches by mortally wounded officers. Ash, however, makes it clear from the beginning that this is not what is significant about these soldiers and their story. Nevertheless, from Lincoln down through the entire chain of command, greater numbers of men and resources were sent where they were perceived to be the most strategically effective, and experimental or not, the Florida campaign was a minor military affair.

Overall, this is a solid piece of historical work that will stand the test of time, and probably be the seminal work on the 1st and 2nd South Carolina. There are also human interest stories and curiosities: the Confed­erate make-shift railroad artillery and the pitiless burning of Jacksonville by abandoning Union forces, for example. The casual reader will find this story refreshing and informative; the scholar will appreciate Ash's care and polished research.

January/February 2009

 

 



Leave a Reply

Human Verification: In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.


Related Articles


History Net Images Spacer
Paid Advertisement
Paid Advertisement
History Net Daily Activities
History net Spacer
History net Spacer
Historynet Spacer
HISTORYNET READERS' POLL

Which of these wars resulted in the most surprising underdog upset?

View Results | See previous polls

Loading ... Loading ...
History net Spacer
STAY CONNECTED WITH US
RSS Feed Daily Email Update
History net Spacer
Paid Advertisement History net Spacer
Paid Advertisement

Paid Advertisement
What is HistoryNet?

The HistoryNet.com is brought to you by Weider History, the world's largest publisher of history magazines. HistoryNet.com contains daily features, photo galleries and over 5,000 articles originally published in our various magazines.

If you are interested in a specific history subject, try searching our archives, you are bound to find something to pique your interest.

From Our Magazines
Weider History

Weider History Network:  HistoryNet | Armchair General | Achtung Panzer! | StreamHistory.com
Today in History | Ask Mr. History | Picture of the Day | Daily History Quiz | Contact Us

Copyright © 2014 Weider History. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
Advertise With Us | Subscription Help | Privacy Policy