The Second Georgia Infantry Regiment,As Told through the Unit History of Company D,Burke Sharpshooters
By F. Mikell Harper (Indigo Custom Printing, Macon, Ga., 2005. $29.95)
The 2nd Georgia Infantry carved out a solid Confederate record as part of General Robert A. Toombs’ Brigade (later “Rock” Benning’s) in the Army of Northern Virginia. A history of the regiment,based on solid research,would make an attractive addition to the literature on that storied army. That F. Mikell Harper’s The Second Georgia Infantry Regiment,As Told through the Unit History of Company D,Burke Sharpshooters never so much as mentions Toombs’name gives a good indication of its depth and credentials, or rather the lack of both.
Across several decades of reviewing Confederate books, I cannot remember seeing more than a half-dozen books as beautifully produced as this one.The Second Georgia placed among three finalists for the annual Benjamin Franklin Award,bestowed by the Independent Book Publishers Association for “excellence in independent publishing.” The association defines the criterion as “editorial and design merit.” It would be foolish to quarrel with the judgment about design, but editorial attention directed at the book’s content,if any,failed egregiously.
Lucy A.Blount published a terse history of Company D of the 2nd Georgia in a 1902 newspaper that Harper transcribed and used as the core of his book. Who Lucy was we do not know; the book ignores such details. Her narrative, presumably based on acquaintance with many of the Burke veterans,has some merit.Its slender extent, however, markedly limits the value. The tiny chapter headed “July 1, 1864—Spring 1865,” for instance,numbers only 37 words; four words per month cannot add much to our understanding. Some of her sallies display more ardor than sense, such as her insistence that the 2nd Georgia “was with the only brigade that broke the enemy’s lines on Round Top.”
The author and editor’s lack of background makes suspect the accuracy of his transcriptions. Apparently unaware of the landmarks being bungled, he writes “Powhalton” for “Powhatan” and “Manistown” for “Morristown,” and repeatedly spells the name of the renowned iron rifled cannon as though named for a bird (Parrot) instead of its inventor (Parrott).
I had some difficulty identifying pages containing modern text intermixed among Blount’s writing,as they are mingled without any clear signals about segues.One way to discern the switch is the sudden appearance of the modern U.S. Postal Service capitalized abbreviations for states in the prose. Another is a descent into superficial description,interlarded with errors.Page 28 suggests,for example,that at Fredericksburg Union General Ambrose Burnside waited “a month” for his pontoons,Lee occupied “an impossible position” (I suspect he means “impregnable”) and “each house was a temporary citadel; even cannon frowned from the windows.” The first time someone tries to fire a Civil War artillery piece inside a house,it should be easy to sell tickets to amused onlookers.
The illustrations, stunningly reproduced on rich paper, constitute the book’s great strength. They too falter, however, under the same nonchalant approach that undermines the text. Pages 16-17 display, with crisp clarity, what at first glance appears to be a wonderfully important wartime photograph of fresh soldier graves in “Hollywood Confederate Cemetery, Richmond.” Since no contemporary photo of that renowned site had been known to exist,a clear image would have been worth the price of the book. Unfortunately, the photograph is not of Hollywood at all,but rather of Oakwood Cemetery also in Richmond. The tombstone of George Doss of the 11th Alabama shows up with enough clarity to read his name. Private Doss, a victim of the Battle of Frayser’s Farm, was (and is) buried in Oakwood.
Research in the Burke locality surely would have turned up photographs of some men who fought with the company. The new edition of Larry Jones’fine Confederate Calendar includes a striking uniformed likeness of Lieutenant Judson Council Sapp of Company D (Blount mentions Sapp three times). Neither Sapp nor any other 2nd Georgia soldiers appear in illustrations.
Rosters of all 10 companies of the 2nd Georgia, on pages 84-103, afforded the author the opportunity to make a worthwhile contribution to the records of the regiment’s soldiers.He avoided the chance to do the least bit of research,however,and offers nothing whatsoever new. Even a modest level of inquiry in the area where the Burke Sharpshooters originated would have produced good material about the men who are the ostensible subject of the book—fuller names,burial sites,births and deaths. A few hours exploring the Compiled Service Records of Company D at the National Archives (or at home with microfilm imported from the Archives) or a few days with the records of all ten companies would surely have yielded much of interest at minimal trouble.So would a few hours further work on 2nd Georgia material in the manuscripts of the Confederate military establishment,or other sources on the unit.
Instead of doing that fundamental research,though,the author simply copied— likely in violation of copyright law—the scant roster entries published four decades ago in Lillian Henderson’s Roster of the Confederate Soldiers of Georgia. Henderson deserves warm accolades for her groundbreaking endeavor, but its basis in Georgia records, rather than the Compiled Service Records,makes it appreciably less than definitive. The Second Georgia does not even bother to add any mention,in the roster of Company D, of the death of a soldier whom Blount described in her narrative.
Had this book borne the title A Few Random Confederate Things That Caught My Fancy,with Lots of Pretty Pictures,it would be harder to criticize, although still dismayingly short on substance.
Originally published in the January 2007 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.