Roll Call to Destiny: The Soldier's Eye View of Civil War Battles , Brent Nosworthy, Basic Books, 336 pages, March 2008, $27.95.
Reviewed by Bruce Trinque, Amston, CT on Civil War Discussion Group, Yahoogroups.com
Although in some ways Brent Nosworthy’s new Roll-Call to Destiny: The Soldier’s Eye View of Civil War Battle can be viewed as a companion to his previous, ground-breaking The Bloody Crucible of Courage: Fighting Methods and Combat Experience of the Civil War, fundamentally Roll-Call to Destiny is independent of that earlier volume, written from a quite different perspective. Thoroughly grounded in firsthand accounts, Roll-Call to Destiny provides a vivid examination of combat during the American Civil War: infantry, cavalry, and artillery (and even naval, or at least riverine, action), from the beginning of the war until nearly its end, both Eastern and Western theaters, Union and Confederate.
The focus is not principally upon the experiences of individual soldiers, but rather upon the activities of “small units” (usually, regiments or batteries, but also brigades or larger organizations, where appropriate) at several different battles, including First Bull Run, Gettysburg, and Missionary Ridge, but also lesser-known actions such as Arkansas Post and Darbytown Road. The author does not attempt to provide detailed accounts of the whole battles, but rather focuses upon one or more selected small units at those actions to illustrate numerous facets of Civil War warfare. He is particularly careful to link the theory and practice of such American combat to European military history and technical developments, showing how the American experience fit into a broader picture and that it is impossible to really understand the battlefields of 1861-65 without taking that broader picture into account. In several cases, the author challenges conventional wisdom and provides convincing new answers to old questions.
Besides this innovative and insightful assessment of Civil War combat, Roll-Call to Destiny offers plenty of more traditional military history in the form of stirring narratives of dramatic episodes peopled by soldiers whose courage and skill rose to the occasion – or sometimes did not. This is a book that should be of great interest and value to anyone seriously interested in the real nature of fighting during the American Civil War. Even those who think that they have already read everything there is to be said on the subject will come away with new information and ideas. This is definitely a book that deserves a strong thumbs-up.