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Book Review - The Antietam Campaign, edited by Gary W. Gallagher, Reviewed by Fernando Ortiz, Jr.

The Smithsonian Associates Civil War E-Mail Newsletter, Volume 3, Number 3

Edited by Gary Gallagher, The Antietam Campaign is a collection of ten groundbreaking essays belonging to the elite group of books that clearly examine this complex confrontation and its ramifications. These ten essays, by an excellent group of Civil War scholars, explore a wide range of issues including the campaign, the battle, and the peripheral events that impacted the outcome.

Gallagher first illustrates the background of the campaign, showing the Southern people as proud and confident, and who viewed the Army of Northern Virginia as the savior of their nation. Brooks D. Simpson describes the savior of the North--Major General George McClellan--as a hesitant leader, paralyzed by indecision. His hesitation in pursuing the Rebels resulted in a war that could have ended two and a half years earlier.

William Blair looks at the “hosts” of the battle, a divided Maryland populace who enticed the Confederates to “save” them, but then snubbed the Rebels in the attempt. Keith S. Bohannon introduces the poorly fed and supplied Rebel army. This contrasts with Scott Hartwig’s review of the Army of the Potomac, 80,000 strong, but not nearly as effective as their scrawny opponents. Lesley J. Gordon examines the 16th Connecticut Infantry, an inexperienced unit that suffered a 20% casualty rate. The survivors tried to redeem their name well into the 20th century.

Robert E.L. Krick tries to redeem JEB Stuart and his calvary’s image, an image tarnished by Stuart’s independent forays into the North as Lee desperately awaited his help. Krick also describes the action at Bloody Lane with wrenching narrative force. He reminds us that history often turns on the personalities of a few. Peter S. Carmichael analyzes the battle’s aftermath and the role of William Nelson Pendleton, Lee’s chief of artillery. Why did Lee suffer Pendleton’s incompetence for so long? Politics is the answer.

Carol Reardon discusses why the battle still is studied. She tells us that in preparing for World War I, Antietam provided insights into logistics, inter-unit cooperation, and the importance of tactical ingenuity. The memories of the hills and fields of Antietam were then carried into the trenches of France and Germany.

With the casual elegance, the firm analysis, and the crystal clarity only the finest professors possess, the contributors to Gallagher’s anthology have presented a fine book. The Antietam Campaign is invaluable to anyone intrigued by the battle, its architects, or its place in the tragic and epic history of the Civil War.

Fernando Ortiz, Jr. is an independent journalist and Civil War scholar. He is also a member of the staff of Louisiana State University’s web site, The United States Civil War Center at www.cwc.lsu.edu.

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