Unit histories tend to fall into one of two camps. The first one, and by far the most prominent in the field emphasizes the battles and campaigns in which the unit participated. This should come as no surprise given the interest of most Civil War enthusiasts. By focusing on one unit the historian is able to provide a level of tactical detail that is usually absent from broader studies. The best of the bunch may even be able to point out crucial aspects of a particular battle that work to revise our understanding of its outcome and significance. At the same time an increasing number of historians are beginning to look beyond the battlefield exploits of individual units to questions surrounding the social, cultural, and political dynamics of the men who served together and endured the hardships of war for long significant stretches of time and away from loved ones. For these historians, military units such as regiments and brigades reflect the communities from which they were raised and must be explored if we are to understand the experiences of individuals and the overall experiences and effectiveness of the unit.
Scott Mingus’s study of the Louisiana Tigers during the Gettysburg Campaign fits neatly into this first camp. He offers the reader a brief history of the unit, beginning with the raising of Company B under the command of Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat in New Orleans in 1861. Mingus briefly touches on the unit’s early history before the battalion was assigned to the First Louisiana Brigade under the command of Brigadier General Harry T. Hays in 1862. From there it is a quick jump to the spring of 1863 following the decisive Confederate victory at Chancellorsville. Mingus does an outstanding job of following the unit on its march north toward Maryland and Pennsylvania and covers the unit’s involvement in the battle of Second Winchester in great detail. The book’s appendices include Official Reports, casualty tables, weather analysis, and a helpful chronology of the entire campaign.
It is safe to conclude that Mingus’s coverage of the Louisiana Tigers at Gettysburg will satisfy even the most voracious appetites for tactical detail. Mingus follows the Tigers through Gettysburg briefly on June 26 before heading to York, Pa. and back again as both armies converged on the small town. Mingus’s analysis of the fighting on July 1 that resulted in the routing of the Union XI Corps along with the fighting on July 2 on East Cemetery Hill is deeply rooted in the letters and diaries of the soldiers themselves. Mingus captures the individual experience of battle and effectively details the movements of the unit through divergent terrain.
While Mingus’s choice to examine the Tigers in the spring and summer of 1863 allows him to concentrate on a crucial moment in the unit’s history, it also exposes its limitations. As much as I enjoyed Mingus’s book I found myself asking questions about the unit that I thought would help me to better understand their experiences throughout the Gettysburg Campaign. In particular, I wanted to know much more about how the unit’s place of origin shaped the command structure up to and through Gettysburg. If we are to understand military units as extensions of communities than there is arguably no more interesting case study than the Louisiana Tigers given the region’s distinctive racial/social/ethnic dynamic. I was also curious as to how Union occupation of southern Louisiana by the spring of 1862 as well as the broader effects of the Emancipation Proclamation had affected the unit’s morale and discipline as the soldiers made their way into Pennsylvania. In short, I found myself wanting to know more about the broader factors that shaped the unit throughout the first half of the war that in turn have the potential to help us to better understand how this unit experienced the Gettysburg Campaign and its aftermath.
These questions, however, should not detract from what Mingus has accomplished. The research is solid and the writing is crisp. Readers interested in Louisiana history, military history, and the battle of Gettysburg will find much to ponder in this book.