Book Review: The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War: A History of the 12th Virginia Infantry from John Brown’s Hanging to Appomattox, 1859-1865


by John Horn

El Dorado Hills, Ca.: Savas Beatie, 2019. Pp. xvi, 340. Illus., maps, diagr., tables, notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 161121436X

Petersburg’s Hometown Boys at War

The 12th Virginia Infantry has an amazing history that, as this book’s subtitle indicates, began with participation in John Brown’s hanging in 1859 and ended at Robert Lee’s and the Army of Northern Virginia’s surrender at Appomattox in 1865. The regiment fought in some of the most important battles in the Eastern Theater such as Second Manassas, South Mountain, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, the Crater and other battles during the Petersburg Siege.

The 12th consisted mostly of men from Petersburg. Almost every family from this city had a relative or friend in this heroic unit. Following President Abraham Lincoln’s April 15th request for 75,000 troops, Virginia seceded, and on April 19th, the state’s Governor John Letcher called for men to sign up for the Confederate cause. Originally known as the Petersburg Battalion, the troops who would comprise the 12th Virginia left the city for the front on April 20th. While they failed to distinguish themselves during much of the initial fighting during the war, they ultimately proved to be quite brave. The 12th Virginia, a part of Weisiger’s brigade of Mahone’s division, became renowned for some of the most important combatants fighting by the Army of Northern Virginia.

Reflecting his years of careful research, Horn tells an exciting story, which scholars, students, and buffs will both enjoy and learn from. The selections from letters, journals, diaries, and memoirs by the soldiers, their wives, and their children, allows students and academics to walk in the shoes of the soldiers and relate to their experiences on the march and in battle, as well as to better appreciate the decisions made during the war. Additionally, Horn shows how these different men made practical decisions to contribute to the Confederate cause. The battles that the regiment took part in, which were most of the principal fights in the eastern theater, are well covered, and the account of the Battle of the Crater is particularly good. The Epilogue is one of the true highlights of the book, offering a great deal of information on the men’s lives following the war.

The Petersburg Regiment it differs from other well-respected works such as John Pullen’s The Twentieth Maine, The Last Full Measure, on the 1st Minnesota, by Richard Moe and James MacGregor Burns, or Harvard’s Civil War, on the 20th Massachusetts, by Richard Miller, or Three Years in the "Bloody Eleventh", on the 11th Pennsylvania Reserves, by Joseph Gibbs, in that while it covers the regiment’s battle history, it also gives us a look at the lives of the men throughout the war, revealing the reality of the soldiers’ experience and respecting what they endured.

The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War is one of the best regimental histories this reviewer has read, While some may balk at the price, $39.95, comes with 32 original maps, 40 helpful images, and eight detailed battle diagrams, plus the useful footnotes a detailed bibliography, and an excellent index. Highly recommended.


This review originally appeared on Amazon Books, and is used courtesy of Mr. Marshall 

Our Reviewer:  David Marshall is a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more tha nthree decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier.


Note: The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War is also available in several e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: David Marshall   

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