Book Review: Such Hard and Severe Service: The 85th Pennsylvania in the Civil War, Volume II, 1864-1865 by Dan Clendaniel

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Cover of Such Hard and Severe Service: The 85th Pennsylvania in the Civil War, Volume 2: 1864-1865SOPO EDITOR’S NOTE: This review covers the second volume in a two-volume unit history of the 85th Pennsylvania.  While the first volume will be briefly discussed, the main focus of the review is on the second volume due to its relevance to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign.

Clendaniel, Dan. Such Hard and Severe Service: The 85th Pennsylvania in the Civil War, Volume II, 1864-1865. (Monongahela Books, 2021). 220 pages, maps, notes, appendices, index. ISBN: 978-1-7330060-4-0 $30.00 (Paperback).

Unit histories of famous regiments abound.  But what of the men who often toiled in relative obscurity?  With Such Hard and Severe Service: The 85th Pennsylvania in the Civil War, Volume II, 1864-1865, and its companion Volume I, first time author Dan Clendaniel has done an admirable job telling the stories of the 85th Pennsylvania.  Utilizing a wide array of primary sources, over 50 from the men of the regiment alone but also many others, the author has produced a set anyone interested in Civil War unit histories will want to own.  He nicely fills in the gaps with his own history of the regiment, taking readers from their organization in southwestern Pennsylvania in October 1861 to the end of the war, with a large portion of the book dedicated to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign.  Though the 85th Pennsylvania fought in few of the most famous battles of the war, their story is nonetheless an interesting and often times exciting one. Their efforts certainly helped the Union win the war, and they fully redeemed themselves after being unfairly maligned at Seven Pines.

Author Dan Clendaniel is a direct descendant of John Clendaniel, a member of the 85th Pennsylvania.  He first became interested in the 85th Pennsylvania in 2009 after reading ten family letters written by John and Stephen Clendaniel during the Civil War.  He has written a two-volume history of the 85th Pennsylvania, the second of which is the subject of this review.  Clendaniel blogs about the regiment at 85th Pennsylvania in the Civil War. The author “is a retired public school teacher from Prince William County, Va. He taught American history and American government in Virginia for 34 years.” The author is available for speaking engagements about the 85th Pennsylvania for interested parties as well.

In the first volume of this two-volume set, Such Hard and Severe Service: The 85th Pennsylvania in the Civil War, Volume I: 1861-1863, the author covers the 85th Pennsylvania’s formation and service in the early years of the war.  After forming in Uniontown, PA in the Fall of 1861, the 85th moved to Washington, D. C. and worked on the fortifications surrounding the city for over four months.  They were primarily stationed to the east of D.C. in Maryland.  The regiment was part of Wessell’s Brigade, Casey’s Division, Fourth Corps when they moved to the Virginia Peninsula in the Spring of 1862. They arrived later than the initial Union forces, and so missed the Siege of Yorktown.  They saw their first action in the dying moments of the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862, and moved forward towards Richmond in the following days.  It was at Seven Pines where the regiment saw its greatest losses, and greatest controversy. Silas Casey’s Division, including the 85th Pennsylvania, were left in an exposed position closest to the Confederate forces defending the Confederate capital.  The Confederates tried to take advantage at the Battle of Seven Pines/Fair Oaks, where on May 31, 1862, they struck Casey’s men and drove them back.  Union reinforcements eventually arrived and stabilized the situation after more fighting on June 1. Author Dan Clendaniel makes a sturdy case for why Casey’s Division should have been applauded for buying the Union army time, rather than scapegoated by George McClellan.  Casey’s Division was used very sparingly during the Seven Days battles in late June to early July 1862, and found themselves removed from the Army of the Potomac entirely in August and stationed in relative backwater theaters for nearly the next two years..  The 85th Pennsylvania found themselves stationed at Suffolk, Virginia in the Fall of 1863, and they participated in some skirmishes at the Blackwater River. In December of 1862 the regiment participated in an expedition to capture Goldsboro, NC, and fought in several small battles along the way, though they did not take the city. The last fighting covered in Volume 1 saw the 85th Pennsylvania moved to the siege of Charleston, SC in the summer of 1863.  There they fought alongside the famous 54th Massachusetts, and though they didn’t charge in two failed assaults on Battery Wagner, they did lead subsequent siege operations which led to its capture.

Volume II picks up where Volume I left off.  The 85th Pennsylvania was moved to Hilton Head in late 1863 and recuperated there for several months. In February 1864 they went on a small recon mission to Whitemarsh Island outside of Savannah, GA, but the Confederates there were ready for them and captured some of the Pennsylvanians in an abortive mission.  From there, the 85th Pennsylvania finally again saw service in the main Eastern Theater fighting, and they would stay there until the end at Appomattox.  In late April 1864 the unit moved to Virginia and participated in Benjamin Butler’s Bermuda Hundred Campaign in May 1864.  They were now part of the Tenth Corps, Army of the James, an attachment they would maintain until the muster out of the original veterans in November 1864.  The 85th was tasked with removing torpedoes from the James River and then saw fighting at Ware Bottom Church on May 20, 1864.

The unit continued to be stationed in the Bermuda Hundred lines at the start of the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, seeing more fighting at Ware Bottom Church on June 16 and June 17, 1864 as the Second Battle of Petersburg raged to the south. The 85th and its brigade stayed in the lines at Bermuda Hundred until mid-August 1864. At that point they participated in the Battle of Second Deep Bottom, skirmishing on August 14-15 and then seeing major fighting at Fussell’s Mill on August 16, 1864.  Here they suffered their worse loss percentage-wise during the entire war.  September 1864 saw the 85th Pennsylvania at Fort Morton, east of Petersburg itself.  During this time their former Colonel Joshua B. Howell, now their brigade commander, perished when his horse fell on him in a tragic accident.  On September 29, 1864, the regiment was in the area of the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm north of the James River southeast of Richmond.  However, they did no real fighting. They were out on the far right flank of the Union line, and their brigade came closer to Richmond on a reconnaissance than any other Union unit did until the city’s capture the following year. A few weeks later, the 85th Pennsylvania was supposed to join a doomed attack at the October 13, 1864 Battle of Darbytown Road, but they were pulled out of the line at the last minute by their brigade commander and saved.  Their enlistments should have expired around this time, but a controversy kept them in the service. In any event, they were removed from the front lines in mid-October and sent to Portsmouth, VA to serve out the remainder of their time, a little over a month.

The original members of the regiment whose time was up left in late November 1864. Some of these men participated in a massive prisoner exchange in Georgia and South Carolina without being paid, and made it home about a month after their comrades in time for Christmas 1864. The men with time left to serve formed what was called the “Detachment, 85th Pennsylvania,” and they were attached to the 199th Pennsylvania in mid-October.  The 199th was a brand-new regiment that had been assigned to the 85th’s old brigade, so it made sense for the detachment to remain amongst friends.  Members of the 85th in this detachment would go on to serve as officers in the 199th, including Robert Hughes, who became that regiment’s Lieutenant Colonel. In this “attached” capacity, the former men of the 85th Pennsylvania participated in the Third Battle of Petersburg on April 2, 1865, and were involved in the capture of Fort Gregg west of Petersburg. They participated in the Appomattox Campaign and witnessed the surrender of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia on April 9. These men were eventually transferred to the 188th Pennsylvania in June 1865 before being mustered out later that year.

Author Dan Clendaniel has put together two very nice volumes on the 85th Pennsylvania.  Both books are filled with first-person accounts from the men of the regiment, allowing them to speak for themselves.  At the same time, he bridges the gaps between first person accounts with the history of the regiment, showing good knowledge of the Civil War sometimes lacking in independently published unit histories. The book is filled with relevant illustrations, including events, maps of the major actions of the 85th Pennsylvania, and images of many of the men discussed in the book.

Unlike many regimental histories, this book does NOT gloss over the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign.  Good descriptions are provided of the fighting on Bermuda Hundred for June 16-18, 1864, Second Deep Bottom, Darbytown Road, and Fort Gregg. In addition, the author provides a lot of detail on the “down times” of the Siege, particularly the regiment’s time spent at Fort Morton in September 1864.  One major topic in the book which did not involve the Siege of Petersburg was the prisoner exchange of late 1864.  Roughly fifty of the men of the regiment were involved, and Clendaniel found an impressive array of sources for what was a rather obscure event. The author is one of the lucky chroniclers of Civil War regiments in that he had an original unit history to fall back on commissioned by the veterans.  That said, Clendaniel did not rely on that source too heavily, to his credit. There were quite a few typos in this volume, more than in the first volume, but I was reviewing an advance copy, and Mr. Clendaniel assures me much of this will be fixed in the final version of the book.  One other minor quibble involves his failure to clearly delineate the end of the Bermuda Hundred Campaign of May 1864 and the beginning of the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, which began on approximately June 12, 1864 with Grant’s movement away from the Cold Harbor battlefield.  Butler’s Tenth corps was in the same location, the Bermuda Hundred lines, but the campaigns to which the fighting belonged were different.  This is only a minor quibble, however.

As mentioned earlier, Dan Clendaniel found and utilized a variety of letters, diaries and other sources to fill out his unit history and add to the historical record of this regiment.  One major source was the Captain Richard Dawson diary.  It was such a good source the author dedicated an entire chapter of the book to its contents.  That decision seemed a little odd at first. Though it caused some chronological issues, it ultimately worked in my opinion.  Dawson seems to have disliked and/or had little respect for the two longest-serving commanders of the regiment, Colonel Joshua B. Howell and Lieutenant Colonel Edward C. Campbell.  Though many disagreed with him regarding Howell, the disdain for Lieutenant Colonel Campbell seems to have been nearly universal.  Sadly, Dawson was mortally wounded at Second Fort Fisher in January 1865 and didn’t survive the war. In addition to members of the regiment, Clendaniel dug deeper and found many quality accounts from the other regiments in the 85th’s brigade, 1/1/X/AotJ.  Homer Plimpton’s reminiscences from the 39th Illinois are particularly high quality and fairly well-known amongst those who read regularly about the Siege of Petersburg. Plimpton was the tip of a rather large iceberg.

The appendices were numerous in this book and provided a lot of useful and interesting additional information.  They were a nice surprise bonus after the main text.  Appendix A gives a nice timeline of the regiment throughout the war. Appendix B lists the men from the 85th Pennsylvania whose letters, diaries and other reminiscences were used in the book.  It also lists the men from their brigade as well as all other Union and Confederate individuals whose accounts appear.  Strangely, to me, the actual type and sources are not listed at all here, and there is no bibliography, but more on that last in a minute. Appendix C gives the original company nicknames and officers for each of the ten companies in the 85th Pennsylvania.  Appendix D contains a chronological list of war deaths in the 8th, including the names and companies of those killed, along with the cause and location of death. Appendix E provides a postwar list of deaths for those men who came home after the war.  The first man died in June 1863, while the last, William Mahaney of Company C, lived to be 99 years old before passing away on April 4, 1944.  Appendix F contains a list of men who left the regiment before the expiration of their enlistment, along with the date and the reason for leaving.  Appendix G gives the names and companies of the original members of the 85th who mustered out in November 1864 after three plus years of service. Appendix H provides the names of the fifty-five officers and men who participated in the great prisoner exchange of late 1864.Appendix I lists the officers and men who reenlisted or joined after 1861 and mustered out in 1865. Last but not least, Appendix J delineates the dates and locations of every postwar reunion held by the members of the regiment, along with useful notes on each.

Although reading the book will intuitively provide you this information, a glance through the endnotes shows a wide variety of sources were used, from letters and diaries to the Official Records to period newspaper accounts and modern secondary accounts to even archival sources, the last a rarity for independently published books. The author certainly spent a LOT of time finding sources to help build on the foundation of the old unit history from the early 20th Century.  The notes are doubly important in this book, however, because it does not appear to contain a traditional bibliography, an odd omission. I double checked Volume I, and there is no bibliography there either.

The maps in a unit history are always tough to do well.  There are only a few choices: finding public domain maps (fairly easy but not generally the best quality), paying someone to create good maps (expensive and time-consuming), or attempting to create the maps yourself (time-consuming and hard to get right for units outside of your own).  Clendaniel relied heavily on the first but also utilized a few good modern maps from others, particularly Hal Jespersen’s maps of several campaigns as well as several really good maps of Bermuda Hundred by Scott Williams.  The result is a bit of a mixed bag.  You do not often see exactly where the 85th Pennsylvania was located in a given fight.  That said, this is almost always an area where I’m left wanting more in a unit history. The author appears to have made a good faith effort to provide maps of the actions in which the 85th Pennsylvania was involved, something many authors dismiss or ignore altogether.

Dan Clendaniel’s two volume history of the 85th Pennsylvania, including the second volume Such Hard and Severe Service: The 85th Pennsylvania in the Civil War, Volume II, 1864-1865, is a welcome new addition to the ranks of modern unit histories.  Clendaniel has done his ancestor’s unit a great service in bringing these men’s stories to a whole new generation of readers.  The large array of primary sources as well as the commentary in between made for an enjoyable and informative account of a regiment which saw several major battles, but mostly served in lesser-known campaigns of the Civil War. Those interested in the Peninsula Campaign and some of the more obscure operations along the Eastern Seaboard will want to own Volume I.  Those with ancestors in the regiment or an interest in its story will definitely want to own these books.  And finally, anyone interested in the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign will find plenty of detailed information in Volume II.  This was a rather well-done effort, especially given the relative obscurity of this regiment.  Unit histories on regiments from the Army of the James are AWAYS welcome, as that army has been unfairly relegated to the dustbin of history.  I’d encourage readers to buy both volumes together if you can.  They could have fit together in one giant book, but the size would have been rather unwieldy for a paperback.  The approach of splitting the effort into two volumes seems to be the correct decision.  Interested readers can find both volumes available at Lulu.com, and don’t forget to check out Dan’s blog at 85th Pennsylvania in the Civil War. If you’re still on the fence, see my permanent page for this series on the 85th Pennsylvania for more information.

An advance proof copy of this book was provided gratis for the purposes of this review.

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