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Antietam: The Soldiers' Battle Paperback – January 20, 1994

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Probably more raw material (letters, diaries, unit histories) about the Civil War battle of Antietam has been crammed into this volume than any other book on the subject. Unfortunately, the author, a Maryland high-school teacher, offers the barest minimum of analysis or interpretation. Presented in chronological order, these excerpts reduce the confrontation between Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and McClellan's Army of the Potomac on September 16-18, 1862, to a clotted mass of vignettes that provides vivid individual glimpses of the fighting but adds up to an unintentional exemplification of the "fog of war." There are 72 maps of the action included, but the absence of a master map renders them all but useless. Such familiar topographical features as the Cornfield, Bloody Lane, Burnside's Bride and the Maryland village of Sharpsburg are shown on certain of the maps, but their location in relation to each other is not.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Priest has admirably fulfilled the goal of his book Antietam by giving us a vivid portrait of the individuals who fought at Antietam, their combat, heroism, and death. No one who wants to know more about Civil War combat and the enlisted man can afford to miss this new study. This well-researched, well-written study is highly recommended to all students of the Civil War."--The Journal of American History

"A very successful treatment of Antietam from the soldiers' eyeview. As such it will take its place along with the more conventional works of Murfin and Sears as one of the indispensable references on the battle."--Military History

"If you only buy one Civil War book this year...this is the book to buy....This volume will grab you and keep you enthralled until the final shots are fired. Don't miss it."--Military Images

"From dawn to dusk, individuals in blue and gray--nearly 200 of them--run, limp, shout, and cry across Priest's stage, each delivering a personal soliloquy from a diary, a letter, or other recollection. The audience is spellbound, mesmerized by tale after tale....Today melts into 1862, and you experience the soldiers' stories of torture and trauma on September 17....A wonderful companion on the battlefield."--Blue and Gray

"Written in a style that reminds me of John Keegan's The Face of Battle, the author takes you down to the common soldier's level with all the dirt, blood, horror, confusion, cowardice, and heroics....As vivid a portrait of 1860s warfare as I've ever read....An excellent account of a pivotal battle and I highly recommend it."--Confederate Veteran

"Filled with heroism and cowardice, death, pain, and humor....[Among the] fine works of military history....Has some of the best maps this reviewer has seen on the 12-hour battle."--Roanoke Times and World News

"The best battlefield first-person compilation I have read....Here, in 316 well-illustrated pages, is the closest I have ever come to feeling Civil War combat....Here it all is--the tactics, the movement, the truth about warfare."--The Civil War Times

"An interesting and personal view of the fight....Useful and fascinating....The book is also graced with a splendid introduction by Jay Luvaas, who perhaps knows more about the Civil War than any man alive."--The Washington Times

"Priest has presented the fight at Antietam in a new, refreshing, human, and long-overdue manner....Priest has done a first-rate job of research and a dedicated job of writing."--Richmond News-Leader

"Under Priest's skilled hands, soldiers come to life--and death--in this outstanding piece of work."--Inside Books

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (January 20, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195084667
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195084665
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 1 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #734,830 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A retired high school history teacher, John Michael Priest has been interested in Civil War history since an early age. He is a graduate of Loyola College in Baltimore and Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, and has written extensively about the Civil War.

His many books include Antietam: The Soldiers' Battle (1989); Before Antietam: The Battle for South Mountain (1992); Nowhere to Run: The Wilderness, May 4th & 5th, 1864 (1995); Victory Without Triumph: The Wilderness, May 6th & 7th, 1864 (1996); and Into the Fight: Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg (1998). Praised by legendary historian Edwin C. Bearss as the "Ernie Pyle" of the Civil War soldier, Priest appeared on the Discovery Channel's Unsolved History: Pickett's Charge (2002), and is one of the historical consultants for the forthcoming miniseries To Appomattox.

His newest work, Stand to It and Give Them Hell! chronicles the fighting on July 2, 1863 from Cemetery Ridge to Little Round Top from the perspectives of the soldiers who fought the battle.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Wayne A. Smith VINE VOICE on November 29, 1999
Format: Paperback
Priest has written a meticulous journal of America's bloodiest day of war from as seen from the eyes of those who earned that title for the Battle of Anteitam.
This book portrays the Civil War in all of its horror. Glory is left on the parade ground as those who witnessed and received the anonymous carnage of the cannon, grape and cannister, as well as the more intimate destruction of the infantry ball, tell of their experiences in minute by minute accounts from around the battlefield. The compellation and writing is so good that the fear and horror of those waiting in the ranks to charge or receive the attention of their enemies dominates the book.
For anyone looking to read of what it was "like" in Civil War battle, this book is about the best.
I would recommend that the reader first take a standard account of the battle, such as Sears' "Landscape Turned Red." Priest does not attempt to portray strategy, the situation that led both armies to Anteitam or the macinations of much of anyone above the rank of Colonel. Not a criticism, since he is not attempting to cover the whole battle, but it may leave the uninitiated at a loss to understand why men are engaged in places like the East Woods, Bloody Lane or Lower Bridge.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 11, 1998
Format: Hardcover
The American Civil War was unprecedented in the sustained ferocity and magnitude of casualties endured over a four-year period. Even in the ACW, Antietam earned unique respect. At reunions after the war, even old veterans of Gettysburg bowed in deference to the veterans of Antietam. Killed and wounded in one day at Antietam totaled more than all those killed in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War and Spanish American War combined. Statistics alone do not even begin to tell the story - the violence, the horror, the effect on the participants and the nation's collective psyche. Priest's great book helps us to understand, on a more personal level, the events that transpired on the rolling farmland between Antietam Creek and the town of Sharpsburg on September 17, 1862. As the two great armies prepared for conflict, gradually collecting on opposite sides of the meandering creek, from South Mountain, Boonsboro, Harper's Ferry and Sheperdstown, and then the red day itself dawns, Priest leads us on using the words of the participants. The soldiers who fought, unfortunate souls who descended for what must have seemed an eternity into a nightmare realm, newspaper correspondents, civilians caught in the fray, nurses, all give testament to the human carnage. The book is at times as dis-jointed as McClellan's attack, but this is not a standard historical treatment nor is it approachable subject matter. The opposing armies advanced and retreated so many times through Miller's cornfield, leaving dead and dying behind with every attack and counter-attack, that afterwards no man could say for sure "how many?" When we visit Antietam Battlefield now and try to understand the conduct of the battle, we have Priest's great work to help us try to understand what it must have been like to be there, on that red day. This book is a rare combination of first rate historical research and a creative, intelligent presentation approach. A model for future like efforts.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David M on July 18, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I "fought" (and won :) the battle of Antietam in junior high as part of my American history class so this battle has always been particularly interesting to me. It is a shame that it is usually lost among some of the more famous battles of the Civil War (like nearby Gettysburg) in most histories becase it wasn't stratigically important. It was the bloodiest single day of the war and this book brings home the true horror of battle and the incredible heroism of the combatants in a very well researched, hour by hour account of the fighting. This book is put together from the individual accounts of the soldiers on the ground placed into the framework of the overall battle. In reading this book I was constantly amazed at the bravery and stamina exhibited by the farmboys and shop clerks on both sides throughout the course of the battle. This isn't a casual read. The author is long on detail and lets the accounts of the soldiers provide the drama. Oh, and if you are ever out in western Maryland go see the battlefield (and take this book). There is no development out there and the area isn't much changed from 150 years ago. If you see it after reading this book I can guarentee that you will get chills up your spine looking out over the cornfield and realizing that you could walk its length by only stepping on the bodies of the fallen.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By David J. Maschek on December 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In "Antietam: The Soldiers' Battle," author John Michael Priest tells the story of the American Civil War's bloodiest day using a compilation of eyewitness accounts. The book also includes no less than 72 sketch maps of the battle. Between the plentiful maps and the chronologically-arranged accounts, the reader can easily follow the ebb and flow of the battle.

The book contains surprises, such as a mention of Gen. Robert E. Lee harassing Confederate stragglers, the soldiers' nearly universal dislike of shelling and occasional acts of cowardice or outrageous bravery. It's astonishing how close together opposing units were when they fired at one another. The author claims that Confederate defenders of the Bloody Lane fired at Max Weber's Union brigade at a range of 60 feet!

My favorite vignette concerns the half-crazed Swedish commander of the 20th New York Regiment, Col. Von Vegesack. When a Maine colonel helpfully suggested that the 20th's colors be lowered because they were drawing too much Rebel fire, Vegesack ranted, "Let them wave. They are our glory."

While many historians write about Antietam in broad strokes, this book gets into the details. For example, every student of the battle knows that Gen. John Sedgwick's Union division got ambushed and cut to pieces in the West Woods. Priest's book shows exactly how this disaster unfolded and where each unit was positioned. Most historians criticize the clumsy commitment of Col. William Irwin's VI Corps Union brigade. Yet, this unit -- which included the 20th NY -- defeated a Confederate thrust that threatened to retake Bloody Lane.

It's easy for armchair strategists to say that the Union commanders should have done this or the Rebel commanders should have done that.
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