by Vincent L. Burns
Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013. Pp. viii, 296.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $35.00 paper. ISBN: 0786476907
Some Busy Horse Soldiers in the Civil War
Organized in New York City in the summer and autumn of 1861, but recruited from all parts of the state, the Fifth New York Cavalry mustered into federal service in November of that year and did not muster out of the service until the summer of 1865. The regiment had a busy war. Serving from the Valley Campaign through Appomattox, it took part in several major battles like Second Bull Run and Gettysburg. But while infantrymen and artillerymen spent a lot of time in routine camp duty and training, even when no major operations were afoot, cavalrymen were almost constantly engaged in as many as 150 small affairs – patrols, raids, pursuits, escorts, reconnaissances, screening, skirmishes, pickets – little missions and combats that were the commonplace of cavalry service on both sides, which made the mounted arm in many ways the most onerous of all.
Oddly, despite its excellent war record, this is the first history of the regiment, and independent Civil War scholar Burns has done a good job of it. He starts with some background on the role of cavalry in the war and the problems of forming cavalry units, and then plunges into the history of the regiment. He follows its career chronologically, giving us what is often a day-by-day look at the regiment and its men as they carry out their duties, fitting their actions within the bigger picture of the war. Burns seasons his narrative treatment with excerpts from official reports, letters by the troops, even bits of soldier poetry.
An excellent regimental history, this book also helps remind us that service in the cavalry was by no means as glamorous as is usually thought, and was often much more arduous than being in the infantry.
The Fifth New York Cavalry in the Civil War is also availabe as an e-pub, ISBN 978-1-4766-0624-8.