The turning point of the Civil War.

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The Antietam campaign, ed. by Gary W. Gallagher. North Carolina, 1999. 335p ISBN 080782481X, $32.50.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 1999

Gallagher (Univ. of Virginia), editor of several Civil War books, offers this interesting collection of essays treating Lee’s 1862 invasion of the North and the critical Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg). One article on the Army of the Potomac argues that the force reflected McClellan’s cautious attitudes toward warfare, Lincoln, and politicians in general. Another essay covers the army’s substantial inexperience, while a third traces the rehabilitation of the 16th Connecticut Regiment’s mediocre performance. Essays on the Army of Northern Virginia study its logistics (not enough for an invasion of Maryland, but improvement came afterward) and the performance of specific units at Nicodemus Heights, Bloody Lane, and Shepherdstown. Other articles examine the Southern reaction to Antietam, generally seeing it as a success while glorifying Lee, and trace the Confederate view of Maryland from sympathy for an oppressed sister state (thus providing justification for secession to protect Southern rights) to contempt when it refused to rebel during Lee’s invasion. A final essay examines the Army War College’s later use of the campaign as a training device. Overall, a good addition to the literature on Antietam. Summing Up: Upper-division undergraduates and above. —P. L. de Rosa, Bridgewater State College

Cooling, Benjamin Franklin. Counter-thrust: from the Peninsula to the Antietam. Nebraska, 2008 (c2007). 354p ISBN 9780803215153, $35.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2009

Far too often, Civil War publications lack a sense of suspense. Knowing that the Union will win the war seems to take away an author’s incentive to capture the urgency of a particular moment and convey that to the reader. Cooling (National Defense Univ.) defies the trend. His depiction of the critical months of 1862 from the Union’s failure on the Peninsula to the Confederacy’s failure at Antietam grasps the ebbs and flows of the fortunes of war, and demonstrates the uncertainty of Union victory in 1862. Cooling’s account of General Robert E. Lee’s attempt to regain the strategic initiative in northern Virginia is filled with vivid battle descriptions, backed by meticulous research. His account of the Battle of Antietam is one of the best in recent years. The book also comes with a suitable number of maps, an important feature for the Civil War novice. Far from offering simply a book of battles, Cooling places the battles into a well-defined context and demonstrates how strategic decision making occurred at the highest levels during the Civil War. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —S. J. Ramold, Eastern Michigan University

Hartwig, D. Scott. The Battle of Antietam and the Maryland Campaign of 1862: a bibliography. Meckler, 1990. 117p (Meckler’s bibliographies of battles and leaders, 1) ISBN 0887363210, $45.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 1990

It may seem unlikely, but there is still room for reference works covering major American Civil War campaigns. Hartwig’s title, including 688 entries on the battle of Antietam and the associated Maryland campaign of 1862, provides a fine blend of primary and secondary sources published from the time of the war through 1987, with a number of recent titles included. Brief, frequently evaluative, annotations are provided for many of items cited. Comprehensive coverage includes books, some newspapers, periodicals, manuscripts, and relevant government documents. Arrangement is in 13 chapters, 10 of which contain the citations. An overview essay and information on the organizational structures of the opposing armies constitute the other three chapters. The index, basically topical plus participant as subject, is the book’s weakest feature. The less initiated researcher should have more guidance. By and large, Hartwig has packed a great deal of information into this work. Fine publications like Garold L. Cole’s Civil War Eyewitnesses (CH, Oct’88) and C.E. Dornbusch’s three-volume Military Bibliography of the Civil War (v.2, 3, CH, May’68, Feb’73) overlap Hartwig only partially. Other useful sources for comparison are dated and also broader in scope. Additional credibility is established since Myron J. Smith, an accomplished author and bibliographer in his own right, is serving as series editor. Summing Up: All types of libraries; all levels. —C. M. Getchell Jr., Wake Forest University

Hearn, Chester, G. Six years of hell: Harpers Ferry during the Civil War. Louisiana State, 1996. 319p ISBN 0807120901, $29.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 1997

Although no major battle was ever fought at Harpers Ferry, the town was bound up with, and eventually destroyed by, the Civil War. Indeed, the unhappy experiences of the city and its inhabitants became a metaphor for the entire Civil War experience. Initially crippled by the relocation of the munitions works and skilled workers to North Carolina, Harpers Ferry was then physically devastated by the demolition of the armory and public government buildings by Stonewall Jackson’s troops. Critically important in a strategic sense (the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad passed through it connecting Washington and Baltimore with the Midwest, and the Shenandoah Valley with the East), the town proved impossible to defend: control of Harpers Ferry changed 14 times. When neither side held it, citizens were subject to the depredations of marauders on raiding or reconnaissance missions. The chaos swirling around Harpers Ferry indirectly affected the outcomes of the Peninsula Campaign, Antietam, and Gettysburg. The strengths of this book are Hearn’s detailed narrative and his in-depth research on the military operations in and around Harpers Ferry. Summing Up: The tight focus on Harpers Ferry may limit its potential audience to military historians and Civil War enthusiasts. —M. Morrison, Purdue University

Herdegen, Lance J. The men stood like iron: how the Iron Brigade won its name. Indiana, 1997. 271p ISBN 0253332214, $24.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 1997

Herdegen examines the formative years of the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteer Brigade, the “Iron Brigade.” Deftly mining brigade members’ letters and memoirs, Herdegen shows how enthusiastic, patriotic civilians became hard-bitten veterans in a series of battles in 1862. They were immortalized at Antietam, when General McClellan observed that the brigade “must be made of iron.” The price of fame was high: a 50 percent casualty rate for the brigade at Antietam alone. Herdegen’s narrative reveals the tedium of camp life, tensions between an often inept and callous officer corps and the rank-and-file, and the brigade’s lasting affection for McClellan. Above all, it illustrates the fatalism with which the troops approached their duty. As they went into battle, more than one member of the Iron Brigade panicked and felt the urge to flee, yet as one private remembered, “I was too much of a coward to run. I was too cowardly to endure being called a coward by my comrades if I survived.” This fatalism dignifies and uplifts the history of these men. One private put it best: “Tell my father I died doing my duty.” He did. Well-researched, clearly argued, and movingly written, the book is recommended for anyone interested in the human dimension of the Civil War. Summing Up: General and academic readers, all levels. —M. Morrison, Purdue University

Martin, Justin. A fierce glory: Antietam—the desperate battle that saved Lincoln and doomed slavery. Da Capo Press, 2018. 318p index ISBN 9780306825255, $28.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2019

The September 17, 1862, battle at Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, was one of the Civil War’s most pivotal battles. It resulted from Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of North Virginia’s invasion of Maryland to obtain recruits and supplies, to threaten the northern states, and to influence European recognition of the new southern republic. Union General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac’s much larger force met Lee in 12 hours of intense and savage combat. It cost 23,000 soldiers killed, wounded, or missing and constituted America’s bloodiest day. Although the fighting proved to be a tactical draw, the battle was a strategic victory for the Union because it ended Lee’s invasion of the North and provided President Abraham Lincoln with the victory he needed to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22. Many excellent accounts of Antietam exist, most notably by Stephen W. Sears and James M. McPherson. Martin provides a well-researched and fast-paced narrative that focuses on what he terms “a dramatic triangle” between Lee, Lincoln, and McClellan. Following Antietam, Lee lost his family’s slaves, and Lincoln moved to free Confederate bondsmen and cashiered McClellan. For general readers, not academic collections. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers only. —J. D. Smith, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Rafuse, Ethan S. Antietam, South Mountain, and Harpers Ferry: a battlefield guide. Nebraska, 2008. 263p ISBN 9780803239708 pbk, $21.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2009

During September 1862, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia invaded Maryland, taking on Union troops at South Mountain and Harpers Ferry, where they secured the largest pre-WW II surrender of US troops. On April 17, the armies had come together in a slugfest at Antietam, which continues to hold the record of bloodiest one-day battle in American history. Rafuse (US Army Command and General Staff College) provides a helpful guidebook dedicated to this single campaign arena. Employing the latest research, he guides the visitor (in person or by armchair) through all the various stops associated with the fighting at South Mountain, Harpers Ferry, and Antietam. Descriptions and analyses are supplemented by illustrations, maps, and vignettes that clearly convey the human dimension of combat, as well as the overall importance of events. Rafuse, who writes with the expertise demonstrated in his 2005 biography of Antietam’s Northern commander (McClellan’s War: The Failure of Moderation in the Struggle for the Union) avoids the clichés found in the many less scholarly guides available, most of which are far less narrow in scope since they consider all Civil War sites within a single volume. Well done and well priced for serious collections and casual use. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers. —M. J. Smith Jr., Tusculum College

Reardon, Carol. A field guide to Antietam: experiencing the battlefield through its history, places, and people, by Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler. North Carolina, 2016. 345p index afp ISBN 9781469630205 pbk, $23.00; ISBN 9781469630212 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2017

The Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, in Maryland (also called the Battle of Sharpsburg) was the bloodiest day in the American Civil War. This self-use field guide consists of 21 stops, beginning with an orientation to the landscape of the battlefield that identifies relevant landmarks and issues of who was there and what happened. The authors—Reardon (Penn State Univ.) and Vossler (retired U.S. Army colonel and former director, United States Army Military History Institute)—have included many detailed, full-color maps and diagrams, which identify and delineate the military troop movements through the area. The many photographs provide labels that identify landmarks and present the perspectives of the various military commanders. It is a must-read prior to field study for all those who travel to Antietam National Battlefield or attend seminars on this particular battle, as well as undergraduates studying the Civil War. Extensive endnotes lead to further sources, and an index identifies persons and places cited in the volume. Summing Up: Recommended. High school, community college, and undergraduate students; general readers. —R. Hartsock, University of North Texas

Rosenheim, Jeff L. Photography and the American Civil War. Metropolitian Museum of Art, New York, 2013. 277p ISBN 0300191804, $50.00; ISBN 9780300191806, $50.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2013

This is not a photographic record of the Civil War, but instead a comprehensive introduction to the range of roles photography played during the conflict—from supporting political campaigns to documenting current events to providing objects connecting estranged family members. Author/curator Rosenheim shows that developments in the production of negatives and photographic prints facilitated a revolution in visual culture that impacted Americans’ views not only of the horrors of war but also of their own identities. Organized by themes that correlate to galleries in a 2013 Metropolitan Museum exhibition, this catalogue highlights familiar works by Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner, explaining how and why the conflicts at Antietam and Gettysburg were documented the way they were. It also offers sensitive readings of lesser-known images, such as portraits of soldiers, and Reed Brockway Bontecou’s documents of soldiers’ wounds. Written for a general audience, this catalogue offers photo historians new images and information in the text, which draws widely on primary sources and recent critical literature. Images of white Northerners predominate, but the exhibition makes an effort to recover images produced by Southerners and to highlight pictures of African Americans. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers. —E. Hutchinson, Barnard College and Columbia University

Slotkin, Richard. The long road to Antietam: how the Civil War became a revolution. Liveright Publishing, 2012. 478p ISBN 9780871404114, $32.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2013

With the arrival of the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Antietam, books on the important battle appear regularly. Adding to the historiography is this study of the political ramifications of the crucial military clash. Slotkin (Wesleyan Univ.) examines the personalities associated with this phase of the Civil War, especially how President Abraham Lincoln made the conflict a revolution by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation in the battle’s aftermath. Before the battle, however, Lincoln had to deal with enemy armies under the command of Robert Lee, and his own forces under George McClellan. Depicted as vain in nature and hostile to Lincoln’s policies, McClellan gained victory at Antietam, but seemingly in spite of himself, due to a series of miscalculations and overcautious moves. As histories of Antietam go, this one is well done, but is often overly dramatic. Slotkin overemphasizes personality clashes in his attempt to demonize McClellan, while he judges the Lincoln administration’s actions as always correct. A good account of the battle, but the drama is laid on a bit thick. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. —S. J. Ramold, Eastern Michigan University