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PECULIAR HONOR: A History of the 28th Texas Cavalry 1862-1865 Paperback – July 1, 1998
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"Allows the reader to appreciate the ordeal of being a Confederate infantry man in the Trans-Mississippi." -- North & South, Sept. 1998
"Johansson is to be commended for a thorough, readable, and useful history of the 28th Texas Calvary." -- Journal of Southern History, Vol. 66, No. 1, 2000
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The 28th Texas Cavalry was raised by Colonel Horace Randal in the spring and summer of 1862 in several counties of East Texas. Like many Texas cavalry regiments, the 28th was dismounted on their way to the front. This was due to an overabundance of mounted units and a need for infantrymen. Ever proud and despite never mounting their horses again, the Texans chose to continue to call themselves cavalry, appending the word 'dismounted' to the end of their official title. These men were predominantly armed with smoothbore muskets, only managing to field a majority of rifles after several major battles of the Red River Campaign. Over the course of the war, the 28th Texas served as a part of Walker's Texas Division, the "Greyhounds", known for their quick marching ability. These men only fought in five major battles in the war (Milliken's Bend, Bayou Bourbeau, Mansfield, Pleasant Hill, and Jenkins' Ferry), but they marched thousands of miles across Arkansas and Louisiana. These Texans did endure two mutinies late in the war, mostly due to rumors of their possible departure from the Trans-Mississippi Theater to protect Selma, Alabama. Not shying away from these less glowing traits, the author attributes the mutinies to these men being an "independent and perhaps loosely controlled group". The 28th Texas wasn't the most famous unit in the war or even the most effective, but they did the best they could with what they had.
As with any study on a Trans-Mississippi Confederate unit, the amount of information available is going to pale in comparison to units serving east of the Mississippi. Johansson took a logical approach to this unavoidable problem. She used the letters, diaries, and memoirs of the 28th Texas Cavalry where available and supplemented these sources with those of other units serving in Walker's Division. The letters of Dr. Edward W. Cade are heavily used. Dr. Cade served first as the regimental and then as the brigade surgeon. Captain Theophilus Perry of Company F wrote often to his wife Harriet, and the author uses these as another main source. Johansson was able to uncover letters from privates in the 28th who wrote home after major battles, helping to fill gaps in the record. When even these weren't sufficient, the reminiscences of men from other regiments in Walker's Division were substituted. The memoirs of Robert Gould, the commander of Gould's Battalion, seemed to be particularly helpful in this regard.
The men of the 28th Texas could look to their leadership and be sure they would be well handled. Colonel Horace Randal attended West Point in the 1850s, graduating second to last in his class in 1854. Johansson believes part of this low standing was due to Randal's "limited educational background" prior to attending the Academy and his average number of demerits. Randal served on the frontier with the 1st Dragoons after graduation, and he had some combat experience in several skirmishes with Native Americans. The first Lieutenant Colonel, Eli H. Baxter, also attended West Point. He was not interested in a military life, however, and resigned in 1853. Baxter attended the University of Virginia for several years, later obtained his law license, and moved to Texas. Baxter would rise to command the regiment rather quickly when Randal became the commander of the 28th Texas' brigade. Major Henry G. Hall was a Princeton graduate, and by the time the war started he was a wealthy slave holder. The author concludes that all three men "attended college, were professionals in their chosen fields, and were well qualified to provide leadership."
Jane Johansson's main goal is to expose the efforts of Walker's Texas Division through its three years of service in the Trans-Mississippi. The 28th Texas is used as a conduit through which to explore the contributions of Walker's Texas Division in a relatively traditional way, but the author also utilized collected genealogical data on the regiment to study the ways in which wealth, slave holding, and other social patterns affected the organization and service of the regiment. This regimental is then, in effect, a blending of traditional and "new" military history. In fact, the author covers the methods she used in detail in an interesting introduction to the book. The men of the 28th Texas enlisted in early 1862 after conscription became law in the Confederacy. Johansson compares these men to those who served in the 3rd Texas Cavalry, also raised in similar counties in East Texas but who enlisted in 1861. She finds that the men who answered the initial call to arms in the early days of the war were substantially different than the later enlistees. The 3rd Texas cavalryman was much younger and wealthier than his counterpart in the 28th, he owned more slaves, and he was usually unmarried. Typically, says the author, poorer men who needed to work their farms and married men who wanted to care for their families did not answer the first calls to arms. Conscription made their involvement in the war unavoidable, however. This look at the social fabric of regiments who differed by enlistment time but who were raised in the same local area was a fascinating and worthwhile effort. In addition to weighing the 28th against other units, Johansson compares the officers of the regiment to its enlisted men. In almost every case, the officers were "wealthier and more occupationally diverse", which the author logically concludes was a reflection of Southern society as a whole. The balance of the book is a traditional military narrative, and the author does a solid if not perfect job covering the movements and battles of the 28th Texas. Johansson mentions early in the book that she needed to fill in some gaps in the narrative of the 28th, and this sometimes shows through. In certain cases, the author candidly admits that there was no record of the activities of the 28th Texas for a given time frame. I found that this turned the book into more of a look at the division as a whole rather than a specific regimental. This has both positive and negative points. On the plus side, the author specifically states her desire to highlight the contributions of Walker's Division, and to her credit she does a solid job of this. However, those looking for a specific history of the regiment in a traditional sense may be left wanting more. To be fair, the amount of primary material available on a Confederate Trans-Mississippi regiment is usually thin, so some of this was undoubtedly unavoidable. The lack of a roster was a curious omission given the subject matter and the way the data was compiled and studied. Perhaps this was done due to space and cost concerns.
Peculiar Honor is an enjoyable and sometimes fascinating read. This is not just a traditional military history, but also sheds light on the social breakdown of the 28th Texas and some of its sister units. The author should be commended for attempting to inform readers about a neglected section of the Civil War in a new and interesting way, largely succeeding in the process. This book is particularly recommended to fans of the Trans-Mississippi Theater, those who enjoy regimentals, and those interested in some of the techniques involved in "new" military history.