The Antietam Campaign

This is another book of essays from editor Gary Gallagher covering the Maryland Campaign of 1862. This one contains ten essays–eleven if we count the bibliographic essay at the end.

The first essay, by Gary Gallagher, was “The Net Result of the Campaign Was in Our Favor,” and covers the confederate reaction to the campaign. In this essay, Professor Gallagher tells us, “The Maryland campaign did not represent a major setback for the Confederacy. Antietam was at worst a bloody standoff, at best a narrow tactical success for Confederates who beat back heavy Union assaults and then held the field for another day. Stonewall Jackson’s capture of 12,000 Union soldiers and immense matériel at Harpers Ferry, as well as A. P. Hill’s stinging repulse of Union forces at Shepherdstown on September 20, marked unequivocal high points of the campaign. McClellan’s inaction throughout late September and October demonstrated how badly his army had been damaged, and Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation betrayed Republican desperation and promised to divide northern society. Reconciled to the fact that the war would not end anytime soon, most Confederates looked to the future with a cautious expectation of success.” [pp. 5-6] Professor Gallagher also makes an excellent point regarding Civil War newspapers: “As is always the case, such accounts must be read with the understanding that editors often tried to shape public opinion as well as inform readers about what had transpired.” [p. 6] He talks about how they approached the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation: “Lincoln’s preliminary emancipation proclamation spurred generally optimistic responses from the Confederate press. In light of emancipation’s eventual role in weakening the southern war effort, this reaction might strike modern readers as disingenuous. How could Confederates interpret the proclamation as anything but a crushing blow to their hopes of maintaining an effective national military resistance? A number of editors undoubtedly sought to put the best face on the situation; however, they also had at hand encouraging news from the pages of northern newspapers, which provided ample details about Democrats and others unhappy at the prospect of risking white lives for black freedom.” [p. 10] Included in the confederate reaction is the reaction of confederate civilians on the home front. ” ‘Jeb’ Stuart’s slashing cavalry raid into Pennsylvania in mid-October added another bright vignette to many civilians’ overall picture of the Maryland campaign. Carried out while Lee’s army remained defiantly along the Potomac frontier, it reinforced the idea that McCellan was a timid commander and reassured citizens who favored offensive action. One man compared it to Stuart’s first ride around McClellan during the Peninsula campaign, calling it ‘not less brilliant than the grand round in June’ and pointing out that ‘[t]his was the enemy’s country.’ In Richmond, where he documented reaction to the war in his famous diary, War Department clerk John B. Jones termed the raid ‘a most brilliant affair’ that yielded much ‘public property’ captured or destroyed. ‘The Abolitionists,’ wrote Jones with obvious satisfaction, ‘are much mortified, and were greatly frightened.’ ” [p. 15] What could perhaps be the most important reaction would be that of the soldiers themselves. “Men and officers alike described Sharpsburg as a cataclysmic battle that had pushed them to the breaking point, but virtually all their accounts stress that Lee’s battered units held the field. The emphasis on maintaining ground might seem like a transparent effort to deflect attention away from the fact that the Army of Northern Virginia eventually retreated; however, for Civil War soldiers the ability to avoid being driven from a battlefield carried great psychological weight. As they would do after Gettysburg ten months hence, Lee’s veterans took pride in overcoming disadvantages of ground, numbers, and matériel and in inflicting horrendous casualties on the Federals. Many historians, including myself, have taken Lee to task for remaining on the battlefield at Sharpsburg through the 18th after nearly suffering disaster the previous day. To do so with his back against the river, and with only Boteler’s Ford available as a possible route of escape, seemingly placed his army at risk without the potential of any real gain. But testimony from soldiers proud of holding the field in the face of a powerful enemy suggests that Lee might have known better than his critics in this instance.” [p. 20] In summary, then, most confederates in the army and at home saw the Maryland campaign as a success. Even the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which historians have said transformed a tactical draw to a strategic victory for the Union, elicited a positive reaction from confederates who saw it as a desperate attempt and one that would result in renewed motivation for their soldiers, leading to greater efforts to achieve victory.

In “General McClellan’s Bodyguard,” Professor Brooks D. Simpson considers the Army of the Potomac after the Battle of Antietam. He tells us, “Considerable evidence suggests that in the seven weeks between Antietam and McClellan’s removal from command the qualities of hesitation, intrigue, and wariness toward civilian superiors epitomizing the general were characteristics of his army as a whole.” [p. 45] According to Professor Simpson, it would be wrong to ascribe this completely to McClellan. “Rather,” he says, “many of his men shared his perspectives toward war and politics. A good number of them demurred on the question of whether to renew the attack on September 18, and more than a few actually expected Lee to strike back. Nor was there much dissent expressed about the army’s failure to launch a vigorous pursuit.” [p. 46] Many of the soldiers in this army believed they had done well against the confederates at Antietam, and a large number regarded the battle as a Union victory. One prolific diarist in the Union Army was Charles Wainwright. “After several weeks of gathering and weighing information, Charles S. Wainwright, Hooker’s chief of artillery, concurred that any blame for failing to size the opportunity presented at Antietam lay in the fumbling execution of McClellan’s plan by his subordinates. Hooker had blundered by precipitating a skirmish on the evening of the 16th, then by oversleeping the following morning, and finally by advancing without waiting for Edwin V. Sumner’s Second Corps to move into position,–‘an attempt to get all the glory himself.’ In turn, Sumner failed to deploy his men in a timely fashion. ‘There seems to be no doubt that if McClellan’s orders had been carried out,’ maintained Wainwright, ‘had Sumner been on time, and Hooker not too anxious to do it all himself, the attack would have been so complete a success that but little of the rebel army would have escaped.’ Finally, Burnside’s inability to do anything until the afternoon allowed Lee to shift his men back and forth to check the piecemeal assaults. ‘Antietam was a victory, and a glorious one when you consider that but seventeen days before this army was running most disgracefully from the same troops over which they were now victorious,’ the artillerist concluded.” [p. 49] Professor Simpson also considers the effect of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac. “In later years much would be made of how officers and soldiers responded to news of the preliminary emancipation proclamation. Fitz John Porter, commander of the Fifth Corps and McClellan’s close friend, informed Manton Marble, editor of the Democratic New York World, that ‘[t]he proclamation was ridiculed in the Army–caused disgust, discontent, and expressions of disloyalty to the views of the administration and amount, I have heard, to insubordination.’ The document undoubtedly sparked controversy, but not nearly as much as Porter and some later observers would suggest. Moreover, it would be a mistake to suppose that the response was overwhelmingly negative; far more soldiers questioned the measure’s utility.” [p. 52] One reason for McClellan’s inactivity after Antietam was his decision to train the rookie soldiers who had joined the army just prior to the battle and had gone into battle never having fired their muskets before. “Whatever the merits of pausing to train raw troops, within less than ten days after the battle a careful observer could detect the excuses that would be raised to justify inaction during the next five weeks. First was the issue of comparative army strengths. The impression prevailed in the army that the contending forces were at best ‘about equal,’ as Wainwright estimated it; others argued that Lee and his men significantly outnumbered Little Mac. Second was the army’s need to be resupplied. Officers repeatedly complained that they were running short of essentials and that the replenishment promised by headquarters–or by Washington–had not materialized. This was the beginning of a long-term problem that plagued the army for the next six weeks.” [p. 53] Professor Simpson also considers the effect of Stuart’s second ride around McClellan. “Stuart had decided it was time to ride around the Army of the Potomac again, and on October 10 his troopers crossed the Potomac, reaching Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, that night. The following day they destroyed stores and railroad equipment. That done, Stuart dashed back across the Potomac on October 12, completing his circuit around the befuddled Federals. The exploit embarrassed McClellan and angered Lincoln, who needed no such incident on the eve of the fall elections. Still, McClellan did not move; again he called for supplies, including remounts for his cavalry, which had struggled to corner Stuart. Betraying impatience, Lincoln offered a lengthy reply. Reminding McClellan that during their conference he had warned the general of his ‘over-cautiousness,’ the president asked: ‘Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you can not do what the enemy is constantly doing? Should you not claim to be at least his equal in prowess, and act upon the claim?’ Lincoln then offered a series of observations on the military situation, each of which was designed to convince the general that he could achieve something, but only if he moved. ‘It is all easy if our troops march as well as the enemy,’ concluded Lincoln, ‘and it is unmanly to say they can not do it.’ ” [p. 59] McClellan would finally start moving slowly. “It was not until November 2 that most of the army was across the Potomac. Lee shifted his men in response to the advance, so that by November 5 Longstreet’s corps blocked the Union route to Richmond. If McClellan was eager to get between Longstreet and Jackson, who was still in the Shenandoah Valley, he showed little sign of it.” [p. 63] All this eventually led to Lincoln relieving McClellan. Yet McClellan’s legacy lived on in the Army of the Potomac, not only in the form of the officers who were his partisans but also in the hearts of the men in the ranks. “Not everyone who served in its ranks would have welcomed Lincoln’s characterization of the army as ‘McClellan’s bodyguard,’ but they would have interpreted the president’s remark as a caustic comment typical of a man who did not understand war. What shaped the peculiar character of this army was not simply the imprint of the character and personality of its first commander. The legacy of that general’s troublesome relationship with the authorities in Washington also played a role, as did a pervasive belief that Republican newspaper editors and, to a lesser extent, the northern public held unreasonable expectations for the army. Many generals, officers, and men shared McClellan’s reluctance to renew battle along Antietam Creek on September 18; many echoed his complaints about the feebleness of resupply efforts during October; many agreed that a winter campaign was out of the question; and a good number questioned the degree to which political demands influenced military decisions. McClellan may have reinforced these tendencies, but they endured long after he left. Perhaps so many members of the Army of the Potomac cherished their association with George B. McClellan in part because he was indeed one of them.” [p. 69]

The third essay, from William Blair, is titled, “Maryland, Our Maryland: Or How Lincoln and His Army Helped to Define the Confederacy.” He writes, “Secession proved a much more ticklish matter in states where the nonslaveholding population outnumbered the planters, ma have come from the North, and did not grow as much tobacco or other plantation staples. The region also realized that war would come first on its soil, meaning that its leaders did not have the luxury of favoring heart over head like their fire-eating cousins farther south. The border prided itself on moderation–a section of calm, rational thinkers living between emotional extremes. Reflecting its geographic position between North and South, Maryland was a complex hybrid of slave and free state. By 1850, it consisted of two sections with different economic and social compositions. Northern Maryland lay above and west of the fault line and featured a diverse ethnic population with a thriving commercial interest. The six counties in this zone, which included the city of Baltimore, were mostly white and free with a black population of 16 percent and only 5 percent slave. Immigrants from Ireland and Germany in particular lived here. … The most secession-minded people lived, appropriately enough, in the southern part of the state on both sides of the Chesapeake. The Eastern Shore contained a mix of people and economy, with its secessionist residents occupying the plantations that hugged the bay. Across the bay, the western shore most resembled the deep South, with the residents referred to as ‘Old Society.’ Called variously southern or lower Maryland, the six counties located below Baltimore comprised 36 percent of the state’s slaveholders. In this region, slaves constituted 44 percent of the population, and black people were a majority at 54 percent. … As the Confederate army would learn during the Antietam campaign, the geography of southern loyalties would be described roughly by a rectangle extending from southern Maryland upward to Baltimore and westward to Frederick. In the northwest lived the most Union-minded people, although the pacifist sects like the Dunkards may more accurately be described as neutral. Baltimore featured a northern commercial character carving itself out of a southern, slaveholding society. Many residents in Baltimore, however, took offense at being called northerners. ‘The ambivalence between a Northern life style and southern sentiment,’ one historian has written, ‘always plagued Baltimore–and Maryland as a whole–whenever the sectional crisis became acute.’ ” [pp. 76-77] Maryland, we learn, was important to Lincoln. “Lincoln believed he needed to keep the state in the Union, no matter how stern the measures. Without it, the capital would become surrounded by the Confederacy. The loss of Maryland also jeopardized command of Chesapeake Bay. Beginning on April 27 when Lincoln ordered martial law, the military moved to quash secession sentiment in the state. Arrests fell into two broad patterns: activity from May through July to solidify the state and calm passions in Baltimore, and a tighter reign from September through November to eliminate opposition within the legislature and secure the state elections for Unionists.” [pp. 79-80] The confederacy was a bit ambivalent about Maryland itself. “The Lower South in particular was suspicious about the political influence that the border region could exert. With greater population and a location near Richmond, the Border States might dominate government patronage. The commercial nature of Maryland also created mixed feelings. A correspondent for the Charleston Mercury articulated this ambivalence when he noted that if Maryland joined the Confederacy it would inevitably monopolize manufacturing. This would repress such economic development elsewhere. Yet if the state failed to join the Confederacy, the South needed to encourage manufacturing and, more distressing, free labor to accomplish it. The correspondent guessed the government would need to attract skilled workers–the kind that caused so much trouble in Baltimore. ‘Pauper labor’ would in turn try to ‘make our institutions suit them,’ which meant having an equal say with planters on issues such as slavery. So the problem was a complicated one. The Confederacy needed the manufacturing that Maryland could offer. But if the state joined the southern cause, then manufactures might bypass the Lower South. If the state stayed in the Union, then the Confederacy needed to open its doors to immigrants who might undermine the slaveholding elite. The South might gain manufacturing but, in its eyes, lose democracy. Neither option appealed to this correspondent.” [p. 81] Professor Blair discusses some of the repressive measures Union officials adopted. “Union major general Nathaniel P. Banks, now in charge in the state, brought fresh attention to Baltimore as he arrested the marshal of police and four members of the police board. The War Department ordered the action through General-in-Chief Scott to suppress southern sentiment among public officials in sensitive positions. Police Marshal George P. Kane had helped persuade the governor to burn bridges leading into the city during the April disturbances. Since then, he and the police board rarely had cooperated wholeheartedly with federal authorities, although they had not resisted openly. They dragged their feet when asked to help stifle Confederate sentiment. Federal officials also suspected that the police board had amassed weapons and aided other surreptitious activity. … Protests against the arrests came to naught, although they revealed that the president supported the action. … The arrests not only failed to end dissent but also infused a new spirit of resistance in the secessionist population. Congressman Henry May of Maryland visited Virginia to consult with Jefferson Davis after the police board was disbanded. He presented a rather bizarre picture, as he spoke publicly about his concerns to Confederate citizens in a speech around the Fourth of July. Here was a member of the federal government standing in a rebel state and criticizing his president.” [pp. 82-83] Secessionist sentiment didn’t end there. “By September, the legislature contained a significant number of members planning to push for a resolution supporting secession during a session scheduled to open on the 17th in Frederick. This position would embarrass the Lincoln administration and possibly affect the election. The orders came down from the War Department on September 11 for the army to prevent passage of a pro-secession resolution. General Banks complied by arresting Congressman May and about thirty members of the Maryland legislature. Also taken was the mayor of Baltimore, who had been a thorn in the side of Union military officials since the occupation. Twenty-nine of the public officials went to prison. Most remained until at least beyond the election, although a number stayed in jail until February or longer. … As important for chilling dissent, the government shut down two newspapers in Baltimore, the Exchange and the South. Both had professed Confederate sympathies. Military authorities hauled into prison four men who worked on these newspapers. Francis Key Howard, identified as the editor of the Exchange, created the most controversy. He was the grandson of Francis Scott Key, who had composed ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ during the War of 1812 after the British had bombarded Fort McHenry–the very same place that had become a Federal holding tank for secessionists. Howard was arrested on September 12 for being in sympathy with the rebels. Authorities portrayed his arrest as a military precaution, claiming his written material ‘might at any time burst into a flame of discord and insurrection.’ ” [p. 84] The confederates tried to placate Marylanders. “The Alien Enemies Act provided the clemency that allowed Marylanders to remain out of the army. When enacted in August 1861, the law gave citizens forty days to declare their allegiance to the Confederacy or leave, with their remaining property confiscated. Because the fate of the Border States was not yet known, the Congress exempted residents from Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri. Consequently, young sons of Maryland planters would be considered aliens but allowed to remain in the South with exemption from conscription. As the war exacted greater sacrifices from Virginians, resentment built that these men could stay out of combat while making money from the war. The inevitable happened–brawls broke out, and local people blamed their problems of law and order partly on this foreign element.” [p. 94] The confederacy eventually decided, after the Gettysburg campaign, that Maryland was not going to join them. “Yet for various reasons interest in Maryland failed to die completely in the Confederate mind. Illicit trade conducted by people from the state continued from the Eastern Shore and southern Maryland throughout the war. Sympathizers also harbored Confederate prisoners escaping from Union hospitals and prisons. Vague rumors about a secret society forming to support the South cropped up in 1863. All of this encouraged hopes that southern sentiment still existed, even if forced underground. Maryland residents also fought and distinguished themselves in the Confederate army and navy. About 4,580 men served in Maryland-designated commands; roughly 20,000 were scattered in other units. Among the notable volunteers were generals such as Arnold Elzey, Bradley T. Johnson, Mansfield Lovell, and George H. Steuart Jr. Charles Sidney Winder lost his life in a key moment that helped save the battle of Cedar Mountain. Isaac R. Trimble led a division during Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. Arguably the most famous seaman in the Confederacy hailed from the state, Raphael Semmes of the CSS Alabama. Where Marylanders fought, they did so with distinction.” [pp. 94-95]

Keith Bohannon discusses confederate logistics in “Dirty, Ragged, and Ill-Provided For.” He says, “Robert E. Lee had a number of reasons for not following his beaten enemy toward Washington in the wake of victory at Second Manassas. He had no intention of attacking or investing the formidable fortifications surrounding the United States capital. Even if the Confederate army possessed ample ammunition to do so, Lee wrote Jefferson Davis on September 3, he would ‘be unable to supply provisions for the troops.’ The war had ravaged northern Virginia. In an 1868 letter, Lee asserted that he could not have maintained his army in the immediate environs of Washington, ‘so barren was it of subsistence, and so devoid were we of transportation.’ An ‘expedition into Maryland,’ as Lee termed his proposed movement, would allow his army to subsist off a countryside untouched by war. With luck, it would also draw the Federal army north of the Potomac River, giving a much needed respite to northern Virginia’s farmers and allowing Confederate commissary agents to gather cattle, wheat, and forage from the region.” [pp. 101-102] He gives us a rundown of the confederate armament situation as well as the problems the confederate quartermaster system faced. “Part of the blame lay with the army’s commutation system, which required soldiers to furnish their own clothing in quantities stated by regulations in exchange for a biannual fixed sum of money. By late August 1861 it was clear that this system was not adequate, and new legislation in the Confederate Congress called for the secretary of war to furnish, as far as possible, ‘clothing for the entire forces of the Confederacy.’ The new law actually expanded the commutation system, requiring the War Department to pay states such as North Carolina that supplied their own troops with clothing.” [p. 106] Abraham C. Myers, the confederate quartermaster general, identified one problem with the confederate system: “Rampant inflation, Myers noted, had made the commutation payment of twenty-five dollars per soldier for six months’ worth of clothing ‘totally inadequate … a pair of servicable [sic] shoes costing one half of that sum.’ Soldiers buying clothing on the market competed with purchasers from the Confederate government, driving up the prices set by ‘traders and speculators.’ Myers also noted that the frequent and valuable donations of clothing made by private individuals and organizations earlier in the war had nearly ceased by the fall of 1862 because of the ‘difficulty of safe and prompt transportation, and for the more controlling reason, that nearly all such sources of supply have been made available by the Q.M. Department.’ ” [p. 107] Lee’s orders reducing the number of wagons also reduced the amount of food and clothing the army could take with it, leading more soldiers to rely on foraging, predominantly green corn and green apples. This essay is loaded with terrific information on confederate logistics and actions taken to try to help and also actions which exacerbated the situation. This essay alone is well worth the purchase price of the book.

In the next essay, “Who Would Not Be a Soldier,” Scott Hartwig talks about the Union volunteers of 1862 in the Maryland campaign. He concentrates on the combat experiences of these rookie soldiers. He talks about what happened to the greenhorns at Harpers Ferry. “Their experience was an unhappy one, particularly for the 126th New York Infantry, which became one of the principal scapegoats of the disaster at Harpers Ferry. Commanded by the woefully unprepared Col. Eliakim Sherrill, the 126th arrived in Harpers Ferry on August 28, about two weeks after they had been organized in New York. Numbering 1,031 officers and men, the regiment was the largest of the garrison. They received orders on September 12 to reinforce the defenders of Maryland Heights, who faced the Confederate brigades of Gens. Joseph B. Kershaw and William Barksdale of Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws’ division. The regiment had done some drilling since its arrival on the 28th and had started to learn the manual of arms, but they had never loaded or fired their muskets before being ordered up to face McLaws’s veterans.” [pp. 149-150] Even though Col. Sherrill was brave, he was unschooled in tactics and his men, while fighting as hard as they could, couldn’t stand up to the veterans, especially after their colonel was shot down. “In fact, with the exception of the 9th Vermont Infantry, which did well at Harpers Ferry, nearly every green regiment in the garrison failed to stand fire during the siege. The 125th New York, commanded by Col. George L. Willard, a West Pointer, broke under the Confederate artillery fire that struck their position near Bolivar Heights on September 14.” [p. 152] Rookie units also participated in the battle of Antietam. “Under the circumstances they had all fought bravely and done the best that could be expected. Against Lee’s veterans their best simply was not enough. But what a difference their large numbers would have made had they received sufficient training before their baptism of fire.” [p. 160]

One of those rookie units was the 16th Connecticut. In her essay, “All Who Went Into That Battle Were Heroes,” Lesley J. Gordon discusses not only their experience at Antietam but their memory of that experience, including their construction of a preferred memory. “The 16th Connecticut’s ‘bloody day at Antietam’ was unforgettable. In their first and only large-scale combat experience, its men broke ranks and ran off the field within a matter of minutes. Members of the regiment tried soon after the battle to describe what happened in an effort to make sense of the chaos. By the time survivors returned to Antietam in 1894, they had commenced reconstructing their own ‘atom of history’ into something courageous rather than cowardly, admirable rather than embarrassing, meaningful rather than pointless.” [p. 170] After a quick history of the unit up to and including the battle of Antietam she shows how men viewed their performance in a negative manner just after the battle, such as a letter from Private Jacob Bauer to his wife in which he said “he was surprised he survived. … Bauer reflected candidly on that ‘dreadful hour’ in the cornfield, conceding that he could recall no thoughts of his wife or of his own safety. Instead, his ‘only thought and word was forward, forward, forward, forward, which I could think of and sing out.’ He fired one shot and ran with the rest of the regiment in ‘Bull Run Fashion.’ ” [p. 181] Soon, however, the regiment began constructing a morphed memory of the battle. “After a few weeks had passed, Bauer, like many of his comrades, changed his mind about both the regiment’s performance at Antietam and the war as a whole. On October 2, he was ‘feeling first rate and glad that I can do my duty’ and professed to ‘really love’ soldiering. The man who unabashedly stated that he and the rest of the 16th fled from the field in ‘Bull Run Fashion’ started thinking dramatically different about the rout. If he survived the war, he confided to his wife, he would return to Antietam and show here where ‘the heros [sic] rest side by side.’ The 16th had its share of cowards, Bauer wrote, but he was not one of them. Cowards were the ones who cursed the most, he maintained, ‘and they were the ones who stayed back in the hour of trial.’ Hometown ministers strove to paint the 16th Connecticut’s stunning losses in commendable terms and to reaffirm soldiers’ and civilians’ faith in the regiment and the war.” [p. 181]

Those with an abiding interest in artillery will enjoy Robert E. L. Krick’s essay, “Defending Lee’s Flank.” It concerns the confederate artillery posted on Nicodemus Heights. Bobby Krick gives us a fine overview of the confederate artillery arm, including not only its equipment but its significant officers as well. He features John Pelham and his performance during the battle. Like his father, Bobby Krick fills his essay with excellent information. Loaded with facts and statistics, he shows how the confederate artillery at Antietam was successful, including taking advantage of mistakes the Federals made. He concludes the essay, “The Army of Northern Virginia’s artillery had better days during the war at Chancellorsville, the Crater, and perhaps a few other sites. But at Sharpsburg the success was especially tangible. Even the crusty Jubal Early generously admitted afterward that Stuart’s artillery ‘contributed largely to the repulse of the enemy.’ J.E.B. Stuart managed to congratulate himself indirectly in his official report by arguing that Nicodemus Heights, held ‘so long and so gallantly by artillery alone, was essential to the maintenance of our position.’ The greatest praise of all comes from the friendly pen of Jennings C. Wise, the historian of the army’s artillery. Wise represents the move from Nicodemus Heights to Hauser’s Ridge as decisive. ‘No one movement on either side bore a greater influence upon the final issue of the battle,’ he concludes. This may be a slightly exaggerated interpretation of the facts, penned by an author unflaggingly fond of his subject. It nonetheless captures the proper tone. On the stuffy fields and pastures west of the Hagerstown Turnpike that day, an unusual collage of Confederate officers and worn-out cannoneers made just enough right decisions and fought just hard enough to save the army’s flank.” [pp. 215-216]

In the next essay, “It Appeared As Though Mutual Extermination Would Put a Stop to the Awful Carnage,” Robert K. Krick considers the confederate soldiers in the sunken road, aka “bloody lane” at Antietam. He tells us the confederate troops in the bloody lane consisted of Robert Rodes’ brigade of Alabama troops, the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 12th, and 26th Alabama, George B. Anderson’s brigade of North Carolinians, the 2nd, 4th, 14th, and 30th North Carolina. “A smattering of three other Confederate brigades ostensibly held the 150-yard gap between Rodes’s left and the Hagerstown Pike: Col. Alfred H. Colquitt’s; Col. Duncan K. McRae’s; and Gen. Howell Cobb’s, under Lt. Col. William MacRae. In fact, the handful of disorganized men in that location, from those brigades and probably others as well, had little impact on the action.” [p. 228] As we’ve come to expect from Robert K. Krick, this essay is packed with detail, providing a full examination of the units involved, their actions, and their leadership.

Next up is Pete Carmichael and his essay, “We Don’t Know What on Earth to Do with Him,” which concerns the incompetent William Nelson Pendleton and the clash at Shepherdstown, Maryland. Peter gives us an outline of Pendleton’s life and career and then takes us to Shepherdstown and the rear-guard action that assisted Lee and his army in getting across the Potomac River after Antietam. Lee made the mistake of placing Pendleton in command of the rear guard there, giving him 33 artillery pieces and a couple brigades of infantry. “Dispatches coming into Pendleton’s headquarters painted an alarming picture that took on a more desperate tone late in the afternoon. yet the general seemed oblivious to the approaching crisis. Col. Thomas T. Munford, commanding the Confederate cavalry at the ford south of Boteler’s, frantically called for infantry support because he doubted his troopers could resist a powerful Union battery. Colonel Hodges of Armistead’s brigade received Munford’s message and forwarded sixty men of the 9th Virginia Infantry to the scene. It appears that Hodges did not consult Pendleton first, although the general claimed in his official report that he initiated the transfer. In any case, Pendleton was largely ignorant of what had happened in his own command.” [p. 268] When the Union forces attacked, the confederates ran. “The soldiers in Lawton’s and Armistead’s brigades managed a few ragged volleys before fleeing. The suddenness with which Pendleton’s command disintegrated shocked those in the Army of Northern Virginia unaccustomed to seeing Lee’s infantry run from the enemy. … More forceful leadership might have stiffened the backbone of the foot soldiers, coordinated efforts between infantry and artillery, and prevented the dispersion of troops that sealed the fate of the Confederate rear guard. But Pendleton should not be held accountable for the wretched condition and low morale of the men, factors that contributed to the collapse. High casualties at Antietam and the loss of both brigade commanders compromised the fighting spirit of the infantrymen. Little rest and insufficient food further undercut morale. … The few reinforcements that reached Armistead’s and Lawton’s brigades did not improve the situation. Most of the men had just been released from the hospital and were without weapons.” [p. 270] Pendleton himself, seeing the disintegration of his force, ran as well. “In truth, Pendleton scurried off the field because he did not have a basic understanding of events at the ford. After the battle he created a smoke screen of half-truths and falsehoods to obscure his actions and appalling lack of firsthand knowledge.” [p. 271] His quick retreat led to the loss of all his artillery. Fortunately for the confederates, Stonewall Jackson heard about Pendleton’s disaster and decided to do something about it. “An indignant Jackson wanted to redeem the army’s reputation after the flight of Pendleton’s rear guard. Following a personal reconnaissance, he selected A. P. Hill’s division to secure the ford and drive the enemy across the river.” [p. 273] This he did and recovered the guns and pushed the Federals back across the Potomac. “Stonewall’s forceful response not only reclaimed Virginia’s side of the river but also saved Pendleton from further embarrassment.” [p. 274] Lee never removed Pendleton, but as Pete tells us “he consistently tried to restrict his duties to bureaucratic matters rather than giving him meaningful control of the artillery in battle.” [p. 279] While Lee and Pendleton were friends, that friendship didn’t get in the way of Lee transferring Pendleton out of the ANV. Instead, it was Pendleton’s friendship with Jefferson Davis. “The possibility of a conflict with Jefferson Davis ranks as the leading reason Lee took no decisive action against Pendleton. Pendleton and Davis began a lifelong friendship at West Point, and during the war the president staunchly supported the artillerist.” [p. 280] This excellent essay gives us a good insight into a major weak link in the ANV’s chain of armor.

The last essay is from Dr. Carol Reardon, titled “From Antietam to the Argonne.” In this essay Dr. Reardon considers the lessons the Maryland campaign taught the future leaders of World War I’s Allied Expeditionary Force. She tells us, “It took nearly fifty years for American soldiers to begin using Antietam as a classroom for professional studies. When they finally did so, they displayed a strong conviction that it and other Civil War campaigns had much to teach them. Indeed, by 1913 the senior administrators of the U.S. Army War College had committed the institution’s faculty and students to the preparation of an official history of the sectional conflict that could be used as a textbook in all the schools that made up the army’s officer education system. The administrators set high standards for the work. Not only were students required to read the best published historical literature on the various campaigns, but they were also expected to use the battlefields themselves as a primary research tool.” [p. 290] We learn that Brig. Gen. M. M. Macomb, who was the commandant of the Army War College when World War I began, “considered the study of past campaigns such as Antietam to be one of the best means to teach officers of any era about the art of command. … Macomb had come to think there was only one way to train a soldier ‘to preserve his balance and a clear vision amid such confusion,’ and that was ‘to train him to deal scientifically with the source materials of military history.’ Antietam provided a particularly useful forum to illustrate some of the most important lessons army instructors hoped to teach. Macomb further believed that soldiers could learn these lessons most clearly only by seeing the field itself. Why? In part because after reviewing the extant campaign and battle histories of the 1862 Maryland campaign and the fight near Sharpsburg, Macomb declared that body of literature to be nearly worthless for professional soldiers who sought to learn practical lessons about military leadership. ‘[H]ow grossly have the historians who have attempted to describe the events of our Civil War been deceived and deceived their readers,’ he complained. ‘The quarrels of the generals, the distribution of the blame or the credit for the outcome, the bravery of the troops–these are the splutterings which fill the pages of our histories; foolish camp-fire fables of the veteran’s later days usurp the place of the reliable contemporaneous data.’ Who, he asked, ‘gives us the real data or rational criticisms about organization, the exercise of command, the marches, the deployments, the attack and defense, the supply, the losses, the breaks? Those are the real military secrets which our popular writers have concealed from our people.’ Because he clearly believed that no previous author met his standards, he expected his own Army War College students and other soldier-authors to fill these gaps.” [pp. 290-292] We also learn how they viewed Lee. “Robert E. Lee always intrigued this generation of soldiers. Most officers at the turn of the century–North and South alike–had been raised on the carefully crafted postwar ‘marble man’ image of Lee. To most of them, Marse Robert stood out as the flawless man and soldier who represented the best of the Lost Cause and who surrendered in the end to save southern lives when northern numbers and resources too heavily outmatched his own. … Army instructors in the early twentieth century summarized the art of sound generalship in a principle they called ‘safe leadership’ or ‘responsible command.’ At Antietam, they argued, Lee failed that test. Maj. Eben Swift, who taught at both the Leavenworth schools and the Army War College, stated the criticism most straightforwardly: Lee ‘had the greatest success when he departed the furthest from established rules..’ In Maryland, he divided his smaller force in the face of a larger opponent. At Antietam, he chose to fight, even though he had his back to a river and access to only one usable ford. In a battle that used up his last reserves, Lee survived to fight another day because he was a lucky leader more than a responsible one. Lee’s decision to face McClellan at Antietam, Swift argued, disqualified him as a ‘safe leader.’ Indeed, Lee had violated a key rule: [I]nstead of acting on the principle that the enemy would do the correct thing he usually acted on the contrary idea that the enemy would do the wrong thing.’ Those who dared to quibble with Swift and other instructors found increasingly less support from their War Department-sanctioned textbooks.” [p. 296] George B. McClellan suffered even worse criticism. “McClellan’s biggest error, they generally concurred, stemmed from his tendency to utilize what the soldiers called ‘ ‘driblet’ fighting in place of ‘mass fighting’.’ They disapproved of his plan to begin the day’s action by launching only Hooker’s First Corps against the Confederate left. Even if ‘Fighting Joe’ had succeeded, they argued, the limited strength of a single-corps attack would most likely have had only minimal effect. It might have driven Lee back on his lines of communications and toward his secure line of retreat, but it also might have handed him time to catch his breath, shorten his lines, and strengthen his defensive position before a second blow fell. … Applying the principle of economy of force, many of the visiting officers argued that he could have accomplished much more than he did if, from the very start, he made his strongest push against Lee’s other flank, his right near Burnside’s Bridge. A hard and quick Union strike on the Confederate right–identified by the students as the ‘flank of decision’–could have separated the bulk of Lee’s army from his troops still coming up from Harpers Ferry, and it certainly would have forced the Army of Northern Virginia to fight for its life to protect its only possible avenue of escape over Boteler’s Ford.” [pp. 300-301] McClellan also received criticism for his misuse of cavalry. “The greater part of a division of cavalry also rested near the Union center at the moment when the southern breaking point seemed so near. Students excoriated the Union commander for failing to use his horsemen, especially at this potentially decisive moment. ‘Pleasanton’s [sic] cavalry division was held boxed up in the center, employed chiefly in driving up stragglers and waiting for other service’ rather than contributing decisively to the battle, one student complained. This scarcely surprised officers who argued that at no time in the campaign did McClellan demonstrate an understanding of how to use cavalry effectively. … Had he sent some of his cavalry to patrol beyond his left flank, they likely would have spotted the march of A. P. Hill’s column from Harpers Ferry and could have warned Burnside of its approach, preventing much slaughter among the Ninth Corps’ Connecticut and Rhode Island troops in the 40-acre Cornfield.” [pp. 302-303] The two army commanders weren’t the only ones to suffer criticism. All the Union corps commanders were examined and “few measured up well, and each general in turn took his lumps.” [p. 304] For example, “Maj. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner came under fire for ‘accompanying and practically commanding the leading division and exercising no control over the movements of those following.’ Students blamed him for deploying Brig. Gen. John Sedgwick’s three brigades in such a tight linear formation that they could not respond effectively to the massive Confederate counterattack that smashed their left flank and rear. They also blamed Sumner for handing the Confederates the chance to deliver that crushing blow by allowing a gap to develop between Sedgwick’s left and the right of Brig. Gen. William H. French’s trailing division. The Confederates had taken advantage of that break in the line to hit Sedgwick’s open flank. Still others, however, blamed French and not Sumner for separating from Sedgewick. Worse, they argued, French then ordered a premature attack on the Confederate center in the Bloody Lane. The southerners had been able to repulse French so easily and with heavy losses, in large part because he had not attended to the security of his flanks.” [p. 305]

I felt this was an important book and essential to anyone who wishes to be a serious student of the Civil War. It’s an example of outstanding scholarship all the way around and gives us the perspective of top historians regarding an important campaign of the war. It’s not the only book one should read on Antietam, though. Indeed, this isn’t the book to read to understand the campaign and battle themselves. Rather, it’s the book to read to expand our understanding of various factors in the battle and campaign and to get beyond the simple movement of the soldiers.

One comment

  1. I agree, Al. I read this one quite a few years ago and think it is an important book in successfully challenging some of the old “conventional wisdom” about Antietam.

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