Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Roll Call to Destiny by Brent Nosworthy

Roll Call to Destiny

Roll Call to Destiny:
The Soldier's Eye View of Civil War Battles
by Brent Nosworthy

Hardback: 342 pages
Publisher: Basic Books
First Released: 2008

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Source: Bought from

Back Cover Description:
Roll Call to Destiny puts readers on the frontlines of the Civil War by providing the point of view of small bands of men who braved unique combat situations. Acclaimed military historian Brent Nosworthy answers such questions as what it was like for artillery to beat back an aggressive infantry assault or to take part in a fast-paced cavalry charge, and how Civil War infantry conflict was waged in thick, forest foliage. From firsthand accounts, Nosworthy has pieced together Burnside’s infantry at Bull Run (infantry-versus-infantry on the open field), the Fifty-Seventh New York at Fair Oaks (fighting in the woods), Daniel Webster’s section at Arkansas Post (artillery attacking a fort), the third day at Gettysburg (cavalry-versus-cavalry), plus much more. A must-read for anyone who wants to know what Confederate and Union soldiers saw, heard, and felt, as well as how they acted at critical moments of the Civil War.

This is a book on military history focused on the American Civil War. The author gives the reader a look at what the battle was like from the soldier's viewpoint: the sights, sounds, smells, and confusion. He pieces together a soldier-eye view of events from the letters and memoirs of soldiers on both sides of the conflict and includes direct quotes from some of those accounts.

The author starts the book off by explaining the military technology available in the United States and abroad at the time and how it was changing the military tactics used.

He then describes several battles, giving an excellent look at what the battle was like for the soldiers as they approached and fought from the various positions. After the account of the battle, the author discusses the tactics used compared to what they were taught was the ideal at the time.

Maps were included to show the positions of the various units in each battle, but the maps weren't very easy for me to read or understand. However, I didn't have trouble visualizing what was happening solely from the text.

The author usually explained the various military terms used (the weapons, formations, maneuvers, tactics, etc.), but sometimes he didn't. I could usually figure it out from context, though. Someone more familiar with the military at that time probably wouldn't have any trouble at all.

Overall, the book was easy to read and effectively gave the reader a look into what Civil War battles were like for the troops. The book was clearly very well researched, and I found it very interesting. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in the Civil War battles or who's interested in what the battles would have been like to live through.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Chapter One
Whether because of fervent patriotism, youthful enthusiasm, or simply a sense of adventure born in the humdrum of day-to-day living, there was no shortage of volunteers rushing to the flag after Abraham Lincoln's April 15 proclamation. The omnipresent enthusiasm, however, was mixed with a naivete and, as it turns out, misplaced optimism, which would prevent the public, politicians, and military leadership from appreciating the nature and scope of the challenge at hand. "It will all be over in ninety days" was the popular cry in print, from the pulpit, and around the dinner table. All over the country camps of instruction sprang up to train the legions of volunteers that now flocked to maintain the Union. Yet, from an operational point of view, these were the halcyon days; there was little fighting during the first ten weeks of what would become the great familial disaccord.

Suddenly captivated by the eruption of a national crisis, the public always craves more information about unfolding events. This was as true in the mid-nineteenth century as it is for those watching the horrors of Katrina or the latest crisis in the Middle East today, and during the spring of 1861, almost everyone eagerly awaited the next edition of the local newspaper for the latest developments in the deepening crisis. Weekly newspapers like Frank Leslie's Illustrated News not only provided articles on the unfolding events, but also expanded their coverage to include more general military topics such as the latest developments in weaponry, naval designs, etc.

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