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A Broken Regiment

The 16th Connecticut's Civil War

Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War

416 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / 14 halftones, 2 maps

ebook available

Civil War

  Hardcover / 9780807157305 / November 2014
A Broken Regiment recounts the tragic history of one of the Civil War’s most ill-fated Union military units. Organized in the late summer of 1862, the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry was unprepared for battle a month later, when it entered the fight at Antietam. The results were catastrophic: nearly a quarter of the men were killed or wounded, and Connecticut’s 16th panicked and fled the field. In the years that followed, the regiment participated in minor skirmishes before surrendering en masse in North Carolina in 1864. Most of its members spent months in southern prison camps, including the notorious Andersonville stockade, where disease and starvation took the lives of over one hundred members of the unit.
 
The struggles of the 16th led survivors to reflect on the true nature of their military experience during and after the war, and questions of cowardice and courage, patriotism and purpose, were often foremost in their thoughts. Over time, competing stories emerged of who they were, why they endured what they did, and how they should be remembered. By the end of the century, their collective recollections reshaped this troubling and traumatic past, and the “unfortunate regiment” emerged as the "Brave Sixteenth,” their individual memories and accounts altered to fit the more heroic contours of the Union victory.
 
The product of over a decade of research, Lesley J. Gordon’s A Broken Regiment illuminates this unit’s complex history amid the interplay of various, and often competing, voices. The result is a fascinating and heartrending story of one regiment’s wartime and postwar struggles.

Lesley J. Gordon is the Charles G. Summersell Chair of Southern History at The University of Alabama. She is the author of General George E. Pickett in Life and Legend, and coeditor of Inside the Confederate Nation: Essays in Honor of Emory M. Thomas.

Praise for A Broken Regiment

“Gordon’s assertion of the validity and value of the regimental history – and the evidence of what she has achieved through judicious use of such source material – will be encouraging. Too long spoiled for choice by the sheer embarrassment of recorded riches that the Civil War provided, many historians have turned up their nose at what was right under it. A Broken Regiment shows us how much we may have missed.”—American Nineteenth Century History

A Broken Regiment is a good read. It is also a finely wrought examination of the relationships between men, war, and history. Gordon has made a valuable contribution to our understanding of Civil War soldiers and the importance they attached to securing their place in our national memory.”—Connecticut History Review

“Drawing on an incredibly rich source base, Gordon highlights such key themes as soldierly motivations for fighting, attitudes toward political questions, perceptions of group identity, and the process of collective memory-making. At once a micro-history and a biography of a whole unit, A Broken Regiment offers a new trajectory for future studies of Civil War regiments. . . . Readers will be impressed with the depth of research, the sophistication of analysis, and the readability of the author’s prose.”—Civil War History

“In A Broken Regiment, Dr. Lesley Gordon has mastered the art of writing a regimental history. She has conducted years of in-depth manuscript material, traveled far and wide, and written a very detailed study of a Civil War regiment that experienced the conflict differently from many of their peers. This book shows that not every regiment experienced the “glories of war.” Rather the Sixteenth Connecticut experienced war at its worse and left an interesting tale to be told. Dr. Lesley Gordon’s A Broken Regiment is regimental history at its best.”—Civil War Book Review

A Broken Regiment is an insightful, deeply researched and informative account of the unit’s war encounters. Gordon demonstrates here just how effectively executed a regimental history can be, both as a good story worth telling and as a vehicle for addressing broader questions about the war and those who experienced it.”—America’s Civil War

“This insightful and well-written narrative is a welcome addition to a crowded field and deserves a wide reading.”—Journal of Military History

“In this fantastic microhistory of the Sixteenth Connecticut, Gordon gives us an intimate portrait of war’s reverberating damage through the eyes of men who were broken on the field, broken at Andersonville, and still broken in old age as wounds of all kinds took their toll on minds, bodies, and memories. The ‘regimental history’ was a lost genre—until now. This is just the reboot the regimental history needs and deserves.”—Stephen Berry, author of House of Abraham: Lincoln and the Todds, A Family Divided by War

“In this deeply researched and wonderfully nuanced study, Lesley Gordon examines how the damaged regiment fought to reconstruct its memory for decades after the war. Throughout this often sad odyssey, which took the regiment from Maryland to Virginia to the coast of North Carolina and finally to the horrors of Andersonville Prison, the men of the 16th suffered, endured, and found sources of honor in a war that brought them few moments of martial glory. A Broken Regiment tells the gripping story of a regiment, and also a war, in ways that we rarely contemplate.”—J. Matthew Gallman, author of America’s Joan of Arc

“Gordon has written a regimental biography that embraces the uncommon story of Civil War soldiers. Shifting our focus from heroic stories of sacrifice at well-known battlefields, Gordon presents everyday men horrified by their failure in combat; men who clamored to reclaim lost honor and rewrite their story. A Broken Regiment challenges assumptions about civilians’ successful transition into citizen-soldiers and linear interpretations of Civil War soldier motivation, home front and battlefront interactions, and Civil War memory. Gordon has answered the call to challenge decade-old assumptions within the field of Civil War scholarship by building on the best work of the past and highlighting questions that new studies of Civil War soldiers will need to consider.”—Susannah J. Ural, author of Don’t Hurry Me Down to Hades: The Civil War in the Words of Those Who Lived It

“Lesley Gordon’s ‘microhistory’ of the Sixteenth Connecticut Volunteers is as compelling as it is revealing. Not content merely to describe the wartime experiences of these men, Gordon proposes new ways to understand how Civil War soldiers first survived then relived the conflict, both collectively and individually, for decades thereafter. This is much more than a portrait of a single regiment. It is a unique work, brilliantly realized.”—Daniel E. Sutherland, author of A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War

“In this beautifully written and deeply researched new book, historian Lesley Gordon explores the emotional and physical roller coaster endured by the men who served and suffered in the Sixteenth Connecticut. A Broken Regiment reveals how a group of brave and optimistic soldiers faced a disheartening and horrific trial by fire, bookended by military failure at Antietam and six months of misery at Andersonville. The veterans who endured the war forced their communities to comprehend that sometimes heroism and suffering are synonymous in the midst of so much unprecedented chaos and destruction. This is simply one of the finest regimental histories ever produced.”—Brian Craig Miller, author of Empty Sleeves: Amputation in the Civil War South

Extras for A Broken Regiment

LISTEN: A Civil War Monitor interview with Lesley Gordon.

View a spreadsheet that contains enlistment data for the 16th CT Civil War Regiment and supports the material presented in "A Broken Regiment" 

This database of men who served in the regiment originated with the state of Connecticut’s Adjutant Generals Office Reports from 1862, 1869, and 1889. As I accumulated more (and sometimes conflicting) information, I filled in gaps and made corrections (especially birth and death dates, and postwar occupations) from the biographical materials collected Ira Forbes and George Whitney. “Rank” is the highest rank achieved with notes added if an officer was reduced in ranks or otherwise demoted. Birth and death dates do not always include days. Death and birth dates seemed to have had the greatest inconsistencies in the various sources, and I tried to confirm these by cross-checking the U.S. census, bound regimental records, pension records, obituaries, local histories, as well as a comprehensive unit roster compiled by Scott Holmes. Thus, readers should be alerted that some discrepancies still remain here (some are noted but not all). Abbreviations used include: “CSR” for Compiled Military Service Records of Union Soldiers, Record Group 94, National Archives, Washington, DC; “IF” for Ira Forbes Collection, Connecticut State Library, Hartford; “RHK” for Robert H. Kellogg Diary, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford; “GQW” for George Q. Whitney Civil War Collection, 1861–1925, Hartford; “HDC” is the Hartford Daily Courant. Consult the bibliography inA Broken Regiment for a complete guide to the sources consulted.  

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