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Inside the Stonewall Brigade
Local historian Robert K. Krick contributes a new introduction to the reissue of a classic work on the Confederacy's most famed unit, the Stonewall Brigade. By Michael Aubrecht

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Date published: 7/1/2006

FOUR YEARS IN THE STONEWALL BRIGADE, by John O. Casler, with new introduction by Robert K. Krick. University of South Carolina Press, 2005. 377 pages. $24.95.

IT HAS BEEN ESTIMATED that more than 4 million men from both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line participated in the War Between the States. According to a study of enlistment and pension records, the Union armies claimed from 2.5 million to 2.75 million men, while the Confederate strength--known less accurately because of missing records--declared from 750,000 to 1.25 million men.

Regardless of the exact figures, the most grotesque statistic to come out of the Civil War was its enormous casualty rates. At least 618,000 Americans died during the conflict, and some experts say the toll reached as high as 700,000. (The number that is most often quoted is 620,000.) At any rate, these fatalities exceeded the nation's losses in all its other wars, from the American Revolution through Vietnam.

Throughout the conflict, many groups of soldiers, in both the blue and the gray, rose above seemingly unsurmountable odds to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Their gallantry on the battlefield has become legendary, and the memory of their courage and convictions is still heralded today. Topping this list of heroes are several groups, including the Irish Brigade, the Iron Brigade, the Orphan Brigade and perhaps the most famous of them all, the Stonewall Brigade.

Answering Virginia Gov. John Letcher's call for militia companies, 2,611 men gathered at Harpers Ferry in April 1861 and were organized into five regiments of infantry and a battery of artillery that was designated as the 1st Brigade, Virginia Volunteers. The regiments were made up of 49 companies, each with a letter designation and a nickname.

These "Valley men" were placed under the command of then-Col. Thomas J. Jackson, who had been picked to lead the 1st Virginia Brigade by Robert E. Lee, then an adviser to Jefferson Davis. At the time, Jackson was a professor at the Virginia Military Institute. After being commissioned in the Confederate army, he was immediately tasked with transforming this ragtag band of volunteers, veterans and VMI cadets into a formidable fighting force.

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