A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut’s Civil War

 By Lesley J. Gordon Louisiana State University Press, 2014, $49.95

John Otto’s cornfield near Sharpsburg, Md., was a bad place for any Union regiment to be the afternoon of September 17, 1862—let alone one that had formally mustered into service less than a month earlier. But that was where the men of Col. Francis Beach’s 16th Connecticut Infantry found themselves during the Battle of Antietam, and their inexperience showed when Maxcy Gregg’s South Carolinians slammed into them late in the battle. Although Beach’s men desperately tried to put up a fight,  within minutes the regiment had been wrecked. In the process, any hope the IX Corps could deliver a decisive blow to the Army of Northern Virginia had been effectively extinguished.

The regiment’s survivors were concerned what effect their Antietam showing would have on their reputations. Although those were legitimate concerns, Lesley Gordon demonstrates in her superb A Broken Regiment that the men of the 16th had reason to take pride in their service during the war. She chronicles how, following Antietam, the regiment saw notable service in the defense of Suffolk, Va., performed occupation duty in Portsmouth, N.C., and participated in active operations along the North Carolina coast. At Plymouth in April 1864, however, the men of the 16th were overwhelmed by a superior Confederate force and had no choice but to surrender. Grueling months of captivity at Andersonville and other prisons followed. Consequently, though Antietam was the only one of the war’s major engagements in which it participated, by the time the 16th Connecticut was mustered out, only a shell remained of the unit that had left Hartford three years earlier.

Students of the Civil War with an interest in the 16th Connecticut and the operations in which it participated have been eagerly awaiting Gordon’s study and will find that their wait was eminently worthwhile. 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.

 

Originally published in the May 2015 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.