on 13 December 2013
A couple of years ago Osprey started the "Duel"-series. But that series focuses on the "hardware" side of warfare, with weapon-systems like ships, planes, tanks etc. facing off. Now it's time for the "poor bloody infantry" to take center stage, as the "Combat"-series pits history's warriors against one another.
"Union Infantryman versus Confederate Infantryman: Eastern Theater 1861-65" is the second volume in this new series and provides, in 80 pages, a comparison of Billy Yank against Johnny Reb during the Civil War. It is written by Ron Field, an authority on the Civil War.
As author Field mentions in his introduction, the invention of the Minié ball (and subsequent improvements thereupon) made for increased accuracy, which had a marked effect on the performance of the infantryman on the Civil War battlefield, and was one of the reasons why tactics began to favor the defending infantry. Due to the effect of black-powder smoke, which obscured visibility, troops often managed to get within close range. The infantryman in close combat inevitably fought independently, and "off his own hook", throughout the Civil War as the din of battle and loss of leadership took its toll.
The introduction is followed by a concise comparison of the development and training of the armies in either butternut or blue, in chapters such as "building an army", "recruiting infantry", "uniforms, equipment, and weapons". "drill manuals and tactics" and "conduct in battle". Two "combat"-inserts of color plates, depicting a union and a confederate soldier from front and back, are also to be found in this section, which comprises 29% of the book.
The second section, and the bulk (about 53%) of the book, consists of a description of three clashes between Union and Confederate forces, to illustrate the changing face of battle during the Civil War years.
In the first example, newly recruited infantrymen of both sides clash at First Bull Run/Manassas (July 21, 1861); the second example used is one of the Civil War's most pivotal battles, the three-day collision between the Blue and the Grey at Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), and specifically, "The Bloody Angle", popularly called "Pickett's charge," which took place on the third day. The third example used is the bloody assault on Confederate positions at Chaffin's Farm/New Market Heights, outside Petersburg (September 29, 1864).
These three examples are described using first-hand accounts of these encounters, and are followed by an analysis and conclusion by the author on the way that the role of the infantryman, and the capability of his commander, changed considerably during the course of the Civil War. Also included is a handy "orders of battle" for the three encounters.
The overall narrative is accompanied with clear, detailed maps; as mentioned above, color plates of the two different types of combatants involved in the fighting and split-screen artwork showing key "over the shoulder" moments from both sides' perspective. The artwork is done by illustrator Peter Dennis, and he does an skilful job. Many photographs (often from the author's own collection) enliven the expert analysis. A great read on this subject!
One minor critical note: I read this E-book, which was optimized for larger screens, on the Kindle Fire HD 8.9" and there are a lot of almost postage stamp-size pictures used to accompany the text. On this Kindle, I was able to enlarge the pictures using the "zoom"-feature, but I don't know what size these pictures are in the paper version. Viewing this E-book on the Kindle Paperwhite: these pictures are slightly larger on the page, but on this device you don't have the "zoom"-feature. So be aware that this might influence your reading pleasure.
The strength of the Osprey format is also its weakness: the Combat-title is limited to 80 pages, so there's no room for anything more than a "Reader's Digest"-type coverage of the topic, always leaving you with just a taste of what's to offer but not the full meal. This is compensated with an abundance of pictures, maps and full-color artwork you (usually) won't find in a regular history book.
For further reading on the Civil War, I recommend:
On the soldiers themselves: "Confederate Infantryman, 1861-1865" by Ian Drury (#6 in the Osprey Warrior-series) and "Union Infantryman, 1861-1865" by John Langellier (#31 in the Osprey Warrior-series).
On the battles used as examples: "Battle at Bull Run: A History of the First Major Campaign of the Civil War" by William C. Davis; "Gettysburg" by Stephen W. Sears for the complete battle; "Pickett's Charge-The Last Attack at Gettysburg" by Earl J. Hess for just the part covered in this Combat-title; "The Last Citadel: Petersburg, Virginia June 1864-April 1865" by Noah Andre Trudeau.
For a general history of the complete Civil War itself: "Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era" by James McPherson, and on the aftermath: "Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877" by Eric Foner.