Rather than reciting the accolades of a famed fighting unit, “A Broken Regiment: The Sixteenth Connecticut’s Civil War” focuses on a single group of Northern men struggling in wartime, grappling over questions of cowardice and heroism, patriotism and purpose, and ultimately the “true” history their military experience. This particular unit, once called by their lieutenant colonel “an unfortunate regiment,” began their Civil War service by breaking under enfilade fire at the battle of Antietam, and essentially ended it by suffering capture at Plymouth, North Carolina in 1864. Some 400 members of its ranks became inmates at the Confederacy’s infamous Andersonville prison. Competing stories of who they were, why they endured what they did and how they should be remembered began before the war ended. By the turn of the century, the “unfortunate regiment” became the “Brave Sixteenth,” individual memories and accounts altered to fit a more triumphant, heroic narrative of the war. Gordon’s
“A Broken Regiment” uncovers the fascinating tale of this hapless group of men, but further probes the processes and often conflicting debates over a unit’s shared memory and identity among northern soldiers.