Book Review: The Cleveland Grays

The Cleveland Grays: An Urban Military Company, 1837-1919. By George N. Vourlojianis. (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 2002. x, 150 pp. Paper, $12.00, ISBN 0-87338-678-7.)

Within the military history genre, regimental and other small-unit studies retain a popularity perhaps second only to campaign volumes and “battle books.” Interestingly, early regimental histories appeared en masse on the American scene while the Civil War still raged, providing veterans and home readers accounts of epic deeds performed on blood-stained fields from Manassas to Missionary Ridge and beyond. Over the next one hundred years, the basic format remained nearly unchanged: “Regimentals” (as they are widely known) recounted in painstaking detail the stories of camp and battle, with scant mention of the social, political, and cultural forces that called these men, often hailing from a single community, to duty in defense of their homes. In fine, such studies provided precious little context of the world from which the soldiers came, serving instead as quintessential “pot-boilers,” accounts that stirred arguments among rival units and latter-day adherents rather than encourage meaningful understanding for subsequent generations of scholars, students, and enthusiasts.

The past thirty years, however, have witnessed the advent of truly integrated small-unit works, volumes that are as much community studies and social histories as they are military tomes. George N. Vourlojianis, assistant professor of history at Cleveland’s John Carroll University, attempts to contribute to the “new military history” in producing The Cleveland Grays, a reworking of his own 1994 Ph.D. dissertation. This reviewer took encouragement from the book’s first sentence, one that modestly decreed it a “work on a bit of Cleveland history” (ix) rather than a mere institutional or chronological narrative. Continue reading Book Review: The Cleveland Grays