Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Volunteer Grit

“Forward My Brave Boys!” is the surprisingly readable diary of a Confederate regiment

“Forward My Brave Boys!” chronicles the origins, training, and military experiences of the Confederacy’s 11th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry regiment from its formation in 1861 until the peace in 1865. M. Todd Cathey and Gary W. Waddey, lifelong researchers with roots in Middle Tennessee, have drawn on a huge collection of letters, diaries, speeches, orders, and regimental records to provide an almost day-to-day account of the regiment.

forward_my_brave_boys-300This is grassroots history. The authors have accounted for almost everybody in the ten companies that made up the regiment, at its peak 900 officers and enlisted men. Formed spontaneously by volunteers from five Middle Tennessee counties, the companies were democratically self-organizing—the men elected their officers—but for the most part submitted to standard military training and discipline. After the battles at Missionary Ridge, sickness, casualties, and a few desertions brought the regiment down to no more than 340 men.

The book stays with the regiment from their marches into Kentucky at the beginning of the war through the battles at Cumberland Gap, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Kennesaw Mountain, Atlanta, Franklin, Nashville, and other major engagements. Cathey and Waddey focus on the men and the details of their life in wartime: weapons, food, boredom, wounds, campsites, exhaustion, and privation, which was often extreme. “It was on these marches that we suffered untold misery,” one soldier wrote. Many of the men “were entirely barefooted marching on the gravel roads, which produced the most excruciating pains that we had during the war . . . we had scarcely nothing to eat and for two or three days we suffered greatly for water.”

This hefty but entertaining history gives life to the men of the 11th Tennessee with tales not only of dedication and bravery in battle but also of camp life—forbidden whiskey, fistfights, card games—as well as personal and family stories outside of the war. “Forward My Brave Boys!” includes scenes from the battlefield, of course, but the big-picture battle narratives, the strategy and tactics employed during them, have been well told by others. This is not a book about the Civil War; it is the story of the soldiers of the 11th Tennessee and their experiences, mostly horrible, during the war.