The Ninth Vermont Infantry: A History and Roster. By Paul G. Zeller. Illustrated, maps, notes, appendices, bibliography, index, 344 pages, September 2008. McFarland Publishers, Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640, hardback, $55.00.
If one had to pick a hard-luck regiment among the 20+ units send by Vermont to the Civil War, there would be no question that is would be the Ninth Vermont Volunteer Infantry. It was the only Vermont unit to serve in the Seventh, Eighteenth and Twenty-fourth Army Corps, the only one to be captured en mass and the only one to serve in North Carolina. It only participated in one battle that was a Union victory, and when in the field, it was usually in the back-waters of the war. Despite these challenges, able regimental leaders rebuilt the unit after months of enforced idleness awaiting exchange, and it ended the war triumphantly marching into Richmond in the waning days of the Confederacy. The soldiers in this regiment had nothing to be ashamed of.
This is author Paul Zeller's second regimental history; his previous work studied the Second Vermont Infantry. He has continued a fine tradition of thorough research, ample illustration, relevant and professionally prepared maps, and excellent writing.
Zeller roots for the underdog, as he explains in his Preface, and this is one of the motivating factors in his decision to write the regiment's history. Granted the unit did not garner the accolades of more bloodied Vermont units during the war, but they did what was asked of them, and he has well documented their efforts.
The low point of the regiment's history was their capture at Harpers Ferry during the 1862 Maryland Campaign. Zeller's description of the regiment's misfortune at the hands of inept leadership helps the reader understand what was and remains the largest surrender of American troops in history. The high point was the regiment's triumphant march into Richmond, and again Zeller goes into significant detail in his rendition, bringing those final giddy days of the war into context.
Among the resources he used was material from dozens of descendants of soldiers in the regiment, bringing to the public eye for the first time, a significant quantity of material not previously available.
A good regimental history includes more than its travels and battles, and Zeller has interspersed a number of what we would call 'human interest stories,' in his work. The rescue of 10-year-old slave Ben Robinson stands out. Free from his owner, he was adopted by the regiment, and when the war was over, taken back to Vermont, and raised as a son by William Holman.
Zeller's use of mapmaker George Skoch's excellent and detailed maps, as in his first volume, contributes significantly to the overall excellence of the study, as does his expansive bibliography and detailed endnotes.
Despite its troubles, and the fact the regiment was only engaged in a single battle that was a Union victory, one can hardly call it a failed unit, despite its commander's apology for its history many years after the war. Zeller has done a magnificent job ensuring the story of the Ninth Vermont Infantry will not fade away.
Well done, Paul!
Tom Ledoux is the creator and webmaster of the Vermont in the Civil War web project, VermontCivilWar.org. He has an M.A. in military studies (Civil War studies) from American Military University.
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