Tarnished Eagles The Courts-Martial of Fifty Union Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels
1998, Stackpole Books, 272 p., republished in 2003 by Bison Books, 258 p. as:
Curmudgeons, Drunkards & Outright Fools Courts Martial of Civil War Union Colonels
From an in-progress database of 50,000+ Union court-martial records, the author of "The Story Soldiers Wouldn't Tell" assembled the records of fifty of the most arrogant, incompetent, drunken, bamfoozled, self-important colonels to address the impact of placing volunteer officers under the command of regular-army generals. A few were actually victims of fate, or doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.
Illustrating the difficulty of creating a 2 million man army from the 15,000 man nucleus of the old Regular Army, the stories are humorous, tragic, profane, and picaresque. During the Civil War, a Union colonel was five times more likely to be court-martialed than a private. Worse, courts-martial of all ranks increased by 400 percent in the winter months.
Among the court-martialed transgressors presented in this volume are an officer nicknamed “Stumpy” because he tended to hide behind tree stumps during combat and a man tried for calling his superior a “miserable reptile.” The gallery of offenders also includes a Vermont colonel who became a chloroform addict and a New York colonel who rode his horse into a barroom, ordered a brandy for himself and one for his horse, then fired his pistol through the ceiling. The stories of fifty misdeeds, along with a statistical exploration of twenty-two thousand other courts-martial, provide a pioneering study of the little-known world of Civil War misbehavior and clarify the often-bewildering dynamics between volunteer soldiers and their professional superiors.
Roland Green of Booklist: With the superlative Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell (1994) behind him, Lowry is working his way through the complete file of Union court-martial records to compile a social portrait of the Union army. This is the first fruit of that labor, consisting of reports of 50 courts-martial of colonels and lieutenant colonels. The offenses include cowardice, incompetence, drunkenness, insubordination, and simple violations of regulations. In their backgrounds (many were lawyers), postwar careers, habits (good and bad), etc., the offenders constitute a cross section of the strata of society from which the leaders of volunteer regiments came. Lowry's admirable dry wit is with him still, and so is compassion for the significant fraction of the subjects who died in action or were crippled for life by wounds--not an aspect of the conflict beloved of Civil War romantics.
North & South: Well-conceived and well-written, this volume’s greatest value lies in its rich portrayal of how an army of civilian volunteers lived, fought, and died—real men with all the virtues and failings of real men. It is a great resource for understanding the realities of the Civil War.
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