Book Review: 11TH MISSOURI INFANTRY IN THE CIVIL WAR- The Unit of my Great-Grandfather John Milton Harrison, Company H, Union Veteran, Civil War.
Recently I obtained a copy of a book detailing the history of my Great-Grandfather John M. Harrison’s military regiment during the Civil War. I will post a brief book review here, and some of what I found interesting about the book.
The book is entitled “The 11th Misouri Volunteer Infantry In The Civil War, A History and Roster”, by Dennis W. Belcher, published in 2009 by McFarland and Company Publishers Inc. The author has a PhD from Mississippi State University and is a descendant of a soldier in the 10th Kentucky Infantry of the Civil War. I am not sure why the author took such an interest in my great-grandfather’s military unit from a different state that his own ancestor, but I am glad he did.
The author’s own words say it beautifully and far better than I can, so I will use direct quotes from the book frequently in this post. The book is “the story of the 11th Missouri Infantry” that “needed to be told. One day a group of men proudly put on their blue uniforms, and for four and a half years willingly paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect their country. Let us never forget the men of the 11th Missouri Infantry, and may their flag forever fly”. “These were men who proved again and again that they would fight, even when they were outnumbered and victory was not possible”. ‘The 11th Missouri never broke in any engagement, and the engagements were many, beginning with the Battle of Fredericktown, Missouri and ending at the Battle of Spanish Fort” in Alabama.
The book jacket contains the following description of the regiment, again quoted verbatim because I think it is a wonderful description: “The 11th Missouri Infantry distinguished itself as just the type of regiment the Union needed in the Civil War. Hard as nails and loyal to a fault, the men of the ‘Eagle Brigade’ would follow their commanders to hell if ordered. They battled two Confederate regiments at Iuka, turned the tide at Corinth, assaulted the impossible Stockade Redan at Vicksburg as whole ranks of soldiers were cut down, and broke Hood’s line at Nashville.” The author states on page 229 that “When the 11th Missouri Infantry mustered out in 1866, they left a proud history. They were a fighting regiment, and they were rough and rowdy. They were not a group that would have been pleasant to be around, but they were given a difficult and bloody job. There was none better than the 11th Missouri”.
The book includes a detailed account of the history, movements and battles of the regiment and the various companies; with many photos of officers as well as privates, camps and battle locations, and transcripts of some of the letters written by soldiers in the unit. My great-great-grandfather is listed as a Veteran of Company H on page 290 in Appendix B of the book (though I note his middle initial is listed incorrectly as “W”, which is probably due to a transcription error). Every known member of the regiment is listed, based on records the author obtained from the National Archives and the Missouri State Archives. There are many brief biographical sketches of some of the officers as well as lesser-known soldiers. I did not find a photo or biographical information on my ancestor in the book, but learned a lot about what his experiences must have been like from reading this book. I already have a copy of my ancestor’s complete military pension file from the National Archives which provided me with lots of biographical information. For a fortunate few descendants, this book will supplement what they may already know about their soldier ancestors from the 11th Missouri Infantry, and some will even be lucky enough to find their ancestor’s photo among the several in the book.
I found especially moving the transcripts of some of the actual letters written by young soldiers in the regiment to their loved ones back home. The men who wrote the letters ranged in age from 18-34. Many were farm boys who had never traveled far from the farm or been away from home and loved ones before. Many wrote a few letters home, and then were killed in battle or died of sickness contracted in camp. Their descendants and the author kindly share those letters with us in this book. The letters told of the feelings, hopes, and fears of these young men; as new recruits first arriving at camp, their experiences on marches, their fears when preparing for the battles they knew lay ahead, and their worries about their own futures and the welfare of the loved ones they left behind. Reading these letters really makes one aware that not a lot has changed over the years, relevant to sending our young men off to war, and the wartime experiences of these young men. Today as then, our soldiers may be fighting for a different cause and in a different land, but their emotions and fears are the same. Duty, honor, and love of country are coupled with their loneliness and worries for their families and their own safety, and their sadness at seeing a best friend wounded, maimed, or killed in battle. Dying of infectious diseases or dysentery contracted while serving under primitive and deprived conditions was especially worrisome during the Civil War. Service-related disease and sickness killed a large number of Union and Confederate soldiers, while leaving others with permanent disabilities and life-long conditions from which they never fully recovered. My great-grandfather was among the latter group.