From a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a pathbreaking history of the Civil War centered on a regiment of immigrants and their brutal experience of the conflict.
The Civil War ended more than 150 years ago, yet our nation remains fiercely divided over its enduring legacies. In A Thousand May Fall, Pulitzer Prize finalist Brian Matthew Jordan returns us to the war itself, bringing us closer than perhaps any prior historian to the chaos of battle and the trials of military life. Creating an intimate, absorbing chronicle from the ordinary soldier’s perspective, he allows us to see the Civil War anew—and through unexpected eyes.
At the heart of Jordan’s vital account is the 107th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, which was at once representative and exceptional. Its ranks weathered the human ordeal of war in painstakingly routine ways, fighting in two defining battles, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, each time in the thick of the killing. But the men of the 107th were not lauded as heroes for their bravery and their suffering. Most of them were ethnic Germans, set apart by language and identity, and their loyalties were regularly questioned by a nativist Northern press. We so often assume that the Civil War was a uniquely American conflict, yet Jordan emphasizes the forgotten contributions made by immigrants to the Union cause. An incredible one quarter of the Union army was foreign born, he shows, with 200,000 native Germans alone fighting to save their adopted homeland and prove their patriotism.
In the course of its service, the 107th Ohio was decimated five times over, and although one of its members earned the Medal of Honor for his daring performance in a skirmish in South Carolina, few others achieved any lasting distinction. Reclaiming these men for posterity, Jordan reveals that even as they endured the horrible extremes of war, the Ohioans contemplated the deeper meanings of the conflict at every turn—from personal questions of citizenship and belonging to the overriding matter of slavery and emancipation.
Based on prodigious new research, including diaries, letters, and unpublished memoirs, A Thousand May Fall is a pioneering, revelatory history that restores the common man and the immigrant striver to the center of the Civil War. In our age of fractured politics and emboldened nativism, Jordan forces us to confront the wrenching human realities, and often-forgotten stakes, of the bloodiest episode in our nation’s history.
Brian Matthew Jordan is an associate professor of history at Sam Houston State University. His first book, Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for History. He lives in Willis, Texas.
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