Roll Call to Destiny: The Soldier's Eye View of Civil War Battles, Brent Nosworthy, Basic Books Inc., 336pp. $27.95. Release Date: March 2008.
Brent Nosworthy' last three books—The Bloody Crucible, The Anatomy of Victory, and With Musket, Sword, and Cannon—are each considered classic on the subject of military tactics and weaponry and how they affected warfare between the 17th and 19th centuries. In his new book, he takes a slightly different approach, choosing to focus more on the actual experiences of soldiers (in this case, concerning the American Civil War), and less on tactics and strategies from a command point of view; rather than provide a bird's-eye view of battle, he conveys a ground-level account of what the average soldier saw, smelled and felt.
Weaponry, tactics, strategy and the experience of combat are, of course, all interconnected, and Nosworthy doesn't lose sight of the fact. He has not created a simple miscellany of disconnected firsthand combat accounts. Instead, he begins Roll Call to Destiny with an enlightening chapter about Europe in the mid-19th century—a particularly progressive period when it came to weapons technology and military doctrine. America wasted no time learning about and creating new weapons and tactics, and then putting them to deadly use in the Civil War.
Having sifted through mountains of firsthand accounts (many never previously published), Nosworthy pieces together his relevant findings to paint a crisp, clear picture of the Civil War frontlines, from the perspective of soldiers standing on them. Nosworthy's subjects of interest here are infantry, artillery and cavalry. What was it like to stand behind a cannon and beat back an infantry charge? To take part in a chaotic, fast-paced cavalry raid? To confront the enemy face to face in thick, forest foliage? Nosworthy puts us in the middle of it all.
To illustrate the average soldier's experience, Nosworthy uses a number of case studies, including Burnside's advance during Bull Run, the Marye's Heights artillery battle at Fredericksburg, cavalry versus cavalry on the third day at Gettysburg, and the defense of Fort Sanders during the Knoxville campaign. He includes three lengthy sections under the rubric “Tactical Observations,” which function as mini chapters examining how the soldiers' experiences covered under the previous chapter are connected with certain issues concerning tactics, training and weapons that made their appearance during the fight, along with the terrain on which the battle took place. These sections are typical of the author's detailed, insightful and original thinking, and will be of great value to Civil War scholars and buffs.
With Roll Call to Destiny, Nosworthy has honed his characteristic approach to military history into an extraordinarily detailed study that is both supremely informative and inviting to read. This is a fascinating, superbly researched work that belongs on the shelves of anyone interested in the Civil War.
Source: Text from Publisher