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South Carolina’s Military Organizations During the War Between the States (4 volumes)

 by Robert S. Seigler, The History Press, 2009, $139.96

Anyone examining Confederate military operations quickly stumbles upon some degree of uncertainty because of changes in the organizations that served as building blocks for larger units. Repeated adjustments in the legal basis for units (and for ranks and departments as well) resulted in reorganizations that generated confusion then, and even more now as we look back in bemusement.

Some companies changed alphabetical designations; some moved from one regiment to another. Regiments dissolved, especially early in 1862, sometimes to be reconstituted with the same number but entirely different component companies. Even in units that maintained some stability, officers came and went, particularly during the remarkable epoch when election from the ranks came into play.

Careful, well-researched explanations of how a state’s companies evolved provide invaluable assistance in understanding the record of Confederate soldiers, and of the armies they constituted. Some early books attempted the task. Willis Brewer’s Alabama: Her History, Resources, War Record and Public Men (1872) devoted 120 pages to an outline of that state’s companies. The nearly contemporary date afforded considerable legitimacy to Willis’ work, but also resulted in only a brief sketch for most regiments, usually about a single page in length. Books by Joseph Rietti (1895) and Dunbar Rowland (1908) accomplished something on the same order for Mississippi.

The late Lee A. Wallace Jr. produced the first thorough modern effort in this vein in Virginia Military Organizations, 1861- 1865, initially published in 1964 as a byproduct of the centennial commemoration. An expanded and vastly improved addition appeared in 1986. The superb Wallace treatise so perfectly defines the genre of research on state military organizations that I made it one of my selections for In Taller Cotton: 200 More Important Confederate Books for the Reader, Researcher, and Collector (2006).

Robert S. Seigler’s four volumes about South Carolinian military organizations do not quite attain the lofty level of excellence that Wallace achieved in his Virginia effort, although in four volumes the work surely supplies more raw material and Seigler definitely deserves full credit for the accomplishment.

Seigler did not arrange the South Carolina units in numerical order, but rather by regional origins. This device works—it will help buyers interested in a particular locality hold down the price of what mounts up to an extremely expensive set. Individual volumes cost $34.99, a fourth of the full set’s price.

The final volume tackles, with considerable success, the intricate warren of militia and reserve units and statewide organizations. It won’t lure popular readers as much as the other volumes, but for serious students it probably will be the most useful. An experienced hand attempting to unsnarl those intricacies affords valuable, even if necessarily complex, insights.

Most of the biographical entries do not extend beyond a brief outline of war-date commissions and assignments. Mistakes do mar some entries, which is probably inevitable in so large a sampling.

Seigler’s prose suffers dreadfully from a relentless stream of passivity. Most readers will hardly notice, but it hinders the narrative flow significantly.

Dozens of photographs, most depicting officers in uniform and printed crisply on coated paper stock, augment the text.

Seigler unmistakably poured an immense amount of labor into this compilation. That effort makes the set well worth having—indeed it immediately earns status as an essential reference tool.


Originally published in the March 2010 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here