Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862

Article excerpt

To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862. By D. Scott Hartwig. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012. Pp. [xii], 794. $49.95, ISBN 978-1-4214-0631-2.)

It was the bloodiest one day in American history, though another battle fought the following year at nearby Gettysburg eclipses it in popularity. It was the climax of General Robert E. Lee's first daring invasion of the North, yet military historians often tend to remember it as "McClellan's Folly." It enabled Abraham Lincoln to open the door of freedom for American blacks, but whether Lincoln opened the door widely enough with the Emancipation Proclamation receives more attention than the battle.

The September 17, 1862, nightmare at Antietam, it can be argued, was the climactic engagement of the Civil War. Yet while seven thousand printed works exist on the battle of Gettysburg, fewer than a half dozen detailed studies are available on the battle in western Maryland. This first of two planned volumes by National Park Service historian D. Scott Hartwig may be the last we will need for years to come. The sheer mass of facts simply cannot be exceeded.

Hartwig's intent is twofold: to present "a study of command" during two vitally important weeks of the war and to share through letters and diaries the "collective experience of the men who made up the two armies," the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac (pp. 2, 3). In both endeavors, he succeeds masterfully. Hartwig's study surpasses the scope of Douglas Southall Freeman's Lee's Lieutenants: A Study in Command (3 vols.; New York, 1942-1944), and it lays concrete groundwork for anyone attempting hereafter to do a Freeman-like study of the Union's principal army.

These 794 pages are but the prelude to the battle of Antietam. Hartwig opens his narrative with the formation of the two armed hosts, dissects the commanders and chains of command, and places the two forces on opposite banks of the Potomac River as September 1862 begins. What follows is an almost hour-by-hour chronicle of the September 2-16 actions that brought Lee and General George B. McClellan to a showdown on the Maryland hills overlooking Antietam Creek.

Three assets make this study outstanding. First is Hartwig's depth of detail. He devotes separate chapters to each army: its command level, staff, quartermaster department, commissary and medical bureaus, corps-division-brigade makeup, infantry, artillery, and cavalry. …

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