Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book Review: Like Men of War, Noah Andre Trudeau


Noah Andre Trudeau
Copyright 1998
This edition published 2002 by Castle Books


Though it was not planned, the last few weeks turned into my opportunity to read more about African American soldiers and their experiences in the Union army during the Civil War than I ever had before. This enlightening period of time ended up with  my reading and enjoyment of Trudeau's fine work mentioned above. 

The previous books I had read were very good too. Forged in Battle, by Joseph Glatthaar (see the link for my review) described the process of the  formation of African-American regiments, including the recruitment of men and officers,  and some of the challenges these men and their leaders faced during the war.  Firebrand of Liberty  by Stephen Ash told the story of African American troops in the Sea Islands off South Carolina and their campaign to the mainland to capture Jacksonville, Florida. Both are books I gladly recommend.

Like Men of War compliments those nicely, or, rather, it is probably better to say that those two works complement Trudeau's book nicely. His volume explores and describes the combat experiences and performances of these troops throughout the war, in all theaters, giving descriptions of many of the military actions (whether battles, engagements, skirmishes or smaller actions) in which these troops participated. He describes some of the challenges they faced outside of combat, including the issue of unequal pay and other treatment based on the color of their skin, but this book generally concentrates on the actual combat and other military experiences these troops had.

The book is well-written and is easy to read. It includes end-notes and a long bibliography of sources. Trudeau was able to find several accounts produced by the soldiers themselves, not just from their white officers. These descriptions add a lot to this book and, in fact, may be the very heart of this volume.

Like Men of War is organized chronologically, but there is a bit of back and forth as Trudeau ambitiously and successfully describes actions in both the Eastern and Western theaters. In some chapters he includes brief "interludes" to discuss issues such as the question of pay, before going back to the military happenings. I really liked the way he included those brief discussions, as well as how each chapter has separate sections as he moves onto a new engagement. This separation makes it easier to keep up with where the fighting is taking place, and helps keep it all from running together. 

One thing that struck me as odd and really threw me off-kilter was chapter 7 "With Wild, Exultant Cheers." All the other chapters were in a standard narrative style, with Trudeau's words combining with the sources he found to tell the story. This chapter, however, relies almost totally on letters written by participants of various expeditions. I did not expect this change and honestly had some trouble adapting to that different style. Perhaps that was just poor reading on my part, but this chapter really stuck out to me for being so different than all the others.

Another aspect of this book that deserves high praise is the number of maps it contains. I have never personally relied on maps as much as many reviewers of Civil War books, but this book may change my view as the many maps in this book definitely added to my understanding of where these engagements were happening.  I am not sure if I have ever seen a book with more maps in it than this one (other than atlases, of course.)

Overall, I found this book to be very well-written, enjoyable and informative. It is a long book at 469 pages, but that is because it covers a lot of material and includes a lot of details. It is simply an excellent book and one I heartily recommend to anyone interested in African American soldiers in the Civil War or the Civil War in general.

2 comments:

  1. Army Life In A Black Regiment by Thomas Wentworth Higginson is also a really good read. There is also The Complete Civil War Journal and Selected Letters of TWH edited by Christopher Looby

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you. I have heard good things about Higginson's, but I'll have to keep Looby's works in mind too

    ReplyDelete