A Brotherhood of Valor is the story of the men who served in two of the most famous combat units of the Civil War, the Stonewall Brigade of the Confederacy and the Iron Brigade of the Union. They fought in some of the most famous and bloody engagements of the war, from First and Second Manassas (Bull Run) to Sharpsburg (Antietam), Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. In telling the stories of these two brigades, historian Jeffry D. Wert offers a visceral depiction of the Civil War from the perspective of the ordinary soldiers who fought in it.
Virginia's Stonewall Brigade got its name from its legendary commander, General Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson. Made up mainly of men from the Shenandoah Valley, it fought with distinction even after its commander suffered fatal wounds at Chancellorsville. The Iron Brigade was formed in what were then the western states of Wisconsin and Indiana. The similarities between the brigades were many. Both were made up largely of farmers, many of them family men with wives and often children left behind. They believed strongly in the causes for which they fought. They fought on opposite sides, but they shared many of the same hardships throughout the war. They were often hungry and astonishingly poorly clad. Many of the Southern soldiers, and some of the Northerners, too, fought barefoot. They often slept on the ground in freezing weather with nothing more than a blanket to cover them, and sometimes not even that. They marched on muddy roads in driving rain, sometimes on little or no sleep.
Most of the soldiers on both sides were literate, and many wrote touching letters home to their families. Wert quotes liberally from these moving letters, which bring an immediacy to the horrors of the Civil War that no other source can match. Soldiers describe the shock of seeing nearby comrades fall mortally wounded, knowing that they themselves could as easily have been killed. Seldom has the story of the Civil War been so powerfully told.
The Stonewall Brigade and the Iron Brigade fought in the major battles of their theater of the war and faced each other on battlefields three times. Eventually they came to recognize and respect one another.
A Brotherhood of Valor is the story of soldiers who fought on opposite sides but shared a sense of duty and honor, men who were, as Wert says, more alike than different. This is the foot soldier's Civil War, vividly told in an outstanding narrative history.