- “The Bloody Fifth”: The 5th Texas Regiment, Hood’s Texas Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia by John F. Schmutz
In the first installment of a two-volume history, John Schmutz provides an in-depth look at the history of the 5th Texas Infantry, aptly nicknamed the “Bloody Fifth.” Though there are several memoirs and personal accounts published by individual unit members after the Civil War, and innumerable works concerning John Bell Hood, this work represents, in the author’s word’s, “the first serious attempt to thoroughly detail the history of the 5th Texas Infantry Regiment” (vi). As the most recent relevant scholarship was published nearly fifty years ago, this is no embellishment, but Schmutz shows himself to be more than well suited to the task.
Supplemented with detailed maps of troop positions and movements of each engagement covered, as well as by gripping excerpts from recollections of unit members, the author offers a well-organized, systematic and comprehensive account of regimental activities from muster through campaigning, battles, and downtime. Upon opening with the chaos and turmoil of Texas immediately during and after the election of 1860, the reader is taken on a turbulent journey through the difficulties in organizing and outfitting troops to meet various levies, three of which would ultimately comprise what would come to be known as “Hood’s Texas Brigade.” Schmutz then recounts the hardships encountered by the various companies of the 1st, 4th, and 5th Texas Regiments on their journeys from Texas to Virginia, and the experiences of camp life while in winter quarters through 1862.
The structure of “The Bloody Fifth” has as much to do with its effectiveness as does its content; the work is divided into sections by campaign, rather than by battle, which allows the author to include details about multiple engagements within a period of time, as well as the experiences to and from each. Inclusion of the overarching goals of both army commanders for each campaign helps put the 5th Texas’s activities in perspective regarding the larger conflict waging around them. Schmutz utilizes excerpts from diaries and letters of soldiers “to the extent possible” when relating battle experiences and unit activities, in the hopes of enhancing the reader’s engagement with the narrative, as well as highlighting the “larger aspects and themes” of the overall conflict (vi).
This is evident throughout the work, as the author recounts the engagements between McClellan and first Johnston, and then Lee, during the Peninsula and Seven Days campaigns leading up to the Second Manassas campaign, where the Fifth would earn its ghastly moniker. The Sharpsburg and Fredericksburg campaigns are then outlined in bloody detail, with numerous illustrations of raw emotion from soldiers on both sides to set the proper mood. Schmutz ends on a somewhat lighter note, with the [End Page 516] long winter encampment punctuated with such light-hearted events as the “Great Snowball Battle,” as well as the ultimately failed siege of Suffolk by Longstreet in April of 1863.
By faithfully maintaining focus on the experiences of the 5th Texas Infantry Regiment, while still effectively chronicling the movements of its sister units in Hood’s Texas Brigade, John Schmutz has produced a superb work of scholarship. The adroit use of common soldiers’ writings makes the content relatable and easy to digest, and his decision to structure the narrative by campaign allows him to cover far more subject matter effectively in a substantially shorter length of time than otherwise. This is a must-read for any Civil War historian, and this reviewer eagerly awaits the second volume.