- Hood's Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy's Most Celebrated Unit by Susannah J. Ural
Civil War unit histories have been around for a long time. Veterans created them to preserve their wartime memories, and historians have since found them useful in explaining important campaigns and battles. True, some people regard the genre as old-fashioned and restrictive, but a new type of unit history has recently emerged that may spark a revival.
The revival began in 2014, with Lesley J. Gordon's innovative A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut's Civil War. As much social as military history, Gordon's book tells the story of a regiment of "cowards" against the backdrop of both home front and battlefield. Notably, too, Gordon carries the saga of her regiment into the postwar years.
Susannah J. Ural has done much the same thing, even as she flips the script. Rather than a Union regiment, Ural writes about a Confederate brigade. Far from being known as the unit that ran away, her rebels are portrayed as among the bravest and most loyal soldiers in the war. That said, Ural mirrors Gordon in having written a splendid bit of history.
Ural's Texas Brigade may be defined, she says, by its steadfast devotion to the Confederate cause. Despite the rigors of campaigning, the slaughter of the battlefield, and the plight of loved ones at home, the brigade rarely flinched or faltered. Its men embodied the spirit of their longtime commander, John Bell Hood, who, despite suffering a crippling wound to one arm and losing a leg, remained in the field and stubbornly refused to admit defeat. Anyone who doubts the strength of Confederate nationalism, Ural insists, need only consider the history of this elite unit. [End Page 710]
Equally important, the vast majority of these men had quite ordinary backgrounds. Indeed, Ural tells us, much of the brigade's cohesiveness and aggressiveness may be explained by the middle-class status of its recruits, their belief in the Jacksonian notion of the self-made man, and, despite having few slaveholders in their ranks, a conviction that Republican political policies would destroy their way of life. Geography also helped. So certain were these men that neither the destructiveness of war nor the dangers of emancipation would ever reach Texas that they evidenced an almost rabid desire, even against the Confederate government's wishes, to rush to Virginia and join the fight.
Not that they were all Texans. In fact, at no time did the brigade consist solely of Lone Star volunteers. Originally it included three Texas infantry regiments (the First, Fourth, and Fifth), the Eighteenth Georgia, and Wade Hampton's legion from South Carolina. When the latter two units were reassigned in late 1862, the void was filled by the Third Arkansas. That would be the final composition of the brigade.
Yet individual regiments are almost irrelevant to Ural's narrative, so strongly is it anchored in the experiences of individuals. Such men as Andrew Erskine, James R. Loughridge, and Thomas J. Goree are the focus of their brigade's story, or at least part of it. Also to be heard are Ann Erskine, Felicia Loughridge, and Sarah K. Goree, for the families and friends of these men are an essential part of what motivated the brigade. The men remained steadfast to the Confederate cause, Ural submits, because their devotion was matched by that of their communities. As letters flowed back and forth between home front and battlefield, this shared faith in the Confederate nation became mutually reinforcing.
Of course, there is some good, old-fashioned military history embedded in all this discussion of motivation, loyalty, and the will to fight. Ural offers meticulous tactical accounts of the brigade's combat experience, most notably at Gaines's Mill (its first significant action), Second Manassas, Antietam, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, and the Wilderness. The names alone suggest how battle-tested the brigade became and why it earned the...