Book review

Third Alabama! - The Civil War Memoir of Brigadier General Cullen Andrews Battle, CSA

Edited by Brandon H. Beck.

 

2002 paperback edition, published by the University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0-817312-44-7 $19.95.

 

Review by Richard O'Sullivan

 

We have waited a long time for Cullen A. Battle's memoirs to see the light of day. Unfortunately, there are good reasons for this. Battle's efficiency, courage and skill earned him promotion from colonel to brigadier general in August 1863 and his story would be a valuable one if only he would tell it, but he largely fails to do so. Instead, he delivers a standard history of the Army of Northern Virginia with particular reference to his regiment, the 3rd Alabama. The book is studded with numerous quotes from the Official Records and the usual exaggerations as to the odds faced by the Confederates in the east. He tells us a lot of what we already know and not enough of what we want to know. Even his faithful editor laments that the general wrote the book too late in life, avoids discussing army politics and even modestly refrains from mentioning some of the occasions on which he was wounded.


Nevertheless, for anyone with a particular interest in the 3rd Alabama and the brigade to which it belonged, this is still a book with something to offer. Battle does not tell many anecdotes, but those that he does tell are amusing and instructive and while he refrains from detailed descriptions of action, he is happy to include a couple written by his comrades. On pages 70 - 74 there is an exciting account of the 3rd Alabama's participation in the battle of Chancellorsville penned by Nick Weekes of Co. A. When the honour of his regiment or brigade is at stake, Battle's writing can become quite spirited. On two or three occasions he provides revealing insights into his skill in dealing with volunteer soldiers.

 

Both Battle and, more surprisingly, his editor remain silent about the most significant piece of army politics in which he was involved. At Gettysburg, the brigade to which the 3rd Alabama was attached was commanded by its senior colonel, Edward O'Neal of the 26th Alabama. O'Neal's performance proved a disappointment to both his divisional commander and the army commander and Battle was later promoted to brigadier general over O'Neal's head. When the latter complained, he and his regiment were simply transferred to the Army of Tennessee. This forceful action by the high command increased the number of men under Battle's control from 350 to 1,800 and is the clearest indication of the regard in which he was held by his superiors. Such a critical moment in Battle's career probably deserves more attention than it receives. Beyond this, Blue & Gray magazine's assessment of the editor's work as "expert yet unobtrusive" is a fair one. The text is adorned with several not very useful maps containing curiously shaped units to which, on occasions, the names of brigade, divisional and even corps commanders are promiscuously attached, suggesting the person who drew them knows little about the organisation or command structure of the Army of Northern Virginia.