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A Yankee Horseman in the Shenandoah Valley: The Civil War Letters of John H. Black, Twelfth Pennsylvania Cavalry

Edited by David J. Coles and Stephen D. Engle; University of Tennessee Press

Material on the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry, which labored in obscurity for much of the war, is very rare indeed. Recruited in Philadelphia, the 12th Pennsylvania saw action during the 1862 Maryland Campaign, but spent most of its existence in the Shenandoah Valley and wasn’t part of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps. It has not, therefore, received the attention given some other units.

John H. Black, an enlisted man who served briefly in the 14th Pennsylvania Infantry before joining the 12th, saw considerable action in the Valley. His letters describe the travails of soldiering, especially the frustrating task of chasing John S. Mosby and his guerrillas.

David Coles and Stephen Engle are skilled historians who have done well editing the letters and providing a connective narrative. They fall short by including only four illustrations and no maps (readers without knowledge of the Valley’s geography will be at a distinct disadvantage). Given these shortcomings and the book’s short length, its $39.95 price tag is a bit hard to understand.

Black’s letters will be an interesting addition to the literature for anyone who wants to learn more about common soldiers. As a cavalry historian, I was happy to add this book to my library.


Originally published in the February 2013 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.