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‘We Fought Desperate’: A History of the 153rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment

By Jeffery D. Stocker, Self-Published, 2014, $44.95

Regimental histories appeared steadily through the postwar decades of the 19th century—especially for Northern units, whose survivors had far more money and leisure to spare than their late foes. As the last veterans died, unit histories all but vanished from the publishing landscape for about 50 years.

The tremendous expansion in available primary material in the modern era, from official Compiled Service Records to well-organized manuscript collections, has stimulated a new generation of regimental histories. They lack the immediacy of eyewitnesses as authors and as audience, but benefit from a powerful array of sources newly accessible. Stocker’s 153rd Pennsylvania is among the best of this breed. The specific focus of unit histories generally leaves them off center stage for reviews, but this superbly detailed regimental deserves notice as an archetype of the genre.

The 153rd’s initial war experience came in violent and daunting fashion in May 1863 at the Battle of Chancellorsville, where the Pennsylvanians fought among a forlorn handful facing west when Gen. Stonewall Jackson exploded into the XI Corps. Stocker took his title from a 153rd diary entry on May 2: “We Fought Desperate.” Two months later they suffered under a similar onslaught on Blocher’s Knoll near Gettysburg.

The regiment had reached the front barely too late to fight at Fredericksburg, and was mustered out in 1863, so saw combat only at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg— but faced an uncommonly violent role in those battles.

Based on numerous primary sources (many in German), Stocker’s narrative describes the 153rd’s two ordeals in great detail. But even more than the text, the roster makes We Fought Desperate (available at an outstanding effort. In addition to 1860s records, Stocker scoured cemeteries, pensions, local archives and a host of other esoteric sources to make the roster a model. Descendants of 153rd Pennsylvania soldiers are far, far ahead of other modern seekers for Yankee ancestors.


Originally published in the March 2015 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.