on January 4, 2013
I knew from day one that I wanted to write a review of this book. I probably have not said anything different from many other reviewers. But I think my experience as a long time Antietam Battlefield volunteer and guide who has walked the battlefields of the Maryland Campaign, give me a different and useful perspective from the usual rank and file book reviewer. My battlefield tours wont fundamentally change as a result of reading TAC. Like this book, I attempt to interpret the Maryland Campaign and Battle of Antietam objectively and factually. But the book's completeness, numerous insights, deep analysis and great stories will add a new richness and depth to my tours and programs that I would not otherwise have had I not read the book.
Mine was not a cursory skimming of the book but a thorough note-taking margin scribbling underlining and highlighting expedition. Over the past three months, I have read it thoroughly, looked at virtually all the footnotes and scoured the bibliography. I can now say unequivocally that this is the best book I have ever read on the Maryland Campaign. And I have read many books. My small 400-volume library contains primarily studies of the Maryland campaign and the leaders and soldiers who fought there.
What Scott Hartwig has done is to put it all together. He incorporates first person, primary source material not typically seen. He acknowledges and uses the foundational work of Carmen. He refers to events in the Antietam Studies at the National Archives that I have not seen elsewhere. He acknowledges and integrates the scholarship of Harsh, Rafuse and Sears in a fair and meaningful way. He disabuses many myths. The result is a balanced, readable, evocative, and thoroughly enjoyable work.
For the first time, there is a complete telling of the Battle of Harpers Ferry. All the gap battles of South Mountain are covered. I was very pleased to see that the fighting at the Frosttown Gap that sometimes seems to take a back seat in some studies was prominently treated.
While serious civil war students will learn much, general readers will benefit from the fact that Hartwig takes the time to explain many of the technical terms that would otherwise be lost to them. He explains what a column of divisions is, and thoroughly describes artillery organization, just to name two examples.
What is particularly important for a margin scribbler like me is the immense detail. One is never left in any doubt how many infantry, cavalry or guns are in a particular fighting organization. We experience every fight from the first cavalry skirmishes around Poolesville through Solomon's Gap, and Quebec Schoolhouse to South Mountain and Harpers Ferry. One of Scott's talents is to clearly depict fighting at the tactical level. We visualize every bend in the road, clump of trees, or row of fences on the field. We smell the gunpowder and hear the cries of the men. It is great battlefield story telling no doubt polished by years as Gettysburg's Chief Historian. Essential to the book are its seventeen well-crafted maps.
Hartwig takes on many of the interpretive myths. The size of McClellan's army is smaller than many think. The Federals suffered just as much as the Rebels from straggling and disorganized logistics. Union staff officers were outstanding. The ANV with several major exceptions was markedly inferior in this category. Sumner and Burnside may not have been the greatest wing commanders but they receive their dues here. We understand the superior organization of the Confederate artillery at the time of the battle. And we learn that there were several very good Union cavalry regiments that fought well in the Campaign and they are not the ones who fought their way out of Harpers Ferry. Jackson, Stuart and Longstreet were arguably among the greatest battlefield leaders of the war but we also see them for the human beings who they are. McClellan, the perennial whipping boy of the Civil War at long last gets the treatment that he deserves. Hartwig is unforgiving in many ways but he is was objective and balanced. No one on either side of the McClellan debate (myself included) should argue with this. The analysis is excellent. You have to read it yourself.
Hartwig beautifully describes the overall condition of the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac in two stand-alone chapters. These are so good that I use them as a primary reference source for training of potential Antietam Battlefield Guides.
There has never been as good a description of the movement to contact of the armies on September 15th and 16th as I see here.
And the final hours before the armies begin their death struggle, on a pitch-black rainy night have never been told so well. The narrative hearkens back at some level to Bruce Catton's own masterful description of the moments before the Battle of Antietam begins.
There are some great extras. Appendix B Strength of Union and Confederate Forces is the best one-stop resource available to the general reader on the numbers. Don't overlook the notes. There is a veritable Sounding the Shallows here in the 84-page collection of 1,422 notes. You will miss out if you skip them
To some who would dismiss this book as just a story of the events up to Antietam, I would answer that this book is a necessarily foundation to understanding the tactical battle that Hartwig will treat us to when the second volume comes out. If you want to learn more about the Maryland Campaign than you can from any other book, you must move this one to the top of your reading list.
If you have hesitated to get this book because of its massiveness, get over it and buy the book. From the first to the last, To Antietam Creek will reward you with the best-told story of the Maryland Campaign ever produced. Now we wait for Volume Two.
on September 24, 2012
To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, D. Scott Hartwig, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012, 8 black and white images, 17 maps, 3 appendices, bibliographic notes, essay on notes, index, 794pp., $49.96. Release date: October 15, 2012.
Both literally and figuratively, all other treatments of The Antietam Campaign may well stand in the shadow of Scott Hartwig's To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862. Having 800 pages and weighting three pounds, nine ounces, To Antietam Creek will be larger than any other book on most bookshelves. And . . . this is only half the campaign. Chapter one begins on August 30 with George McClellan smoking a cigar and requesting by telegram to rejoin the elements of the Army of the Potomac that are under the command of John Pope. The final chapter concludes with infantrymen and artillerymen in a restless sleep on the Henry Piper farm, George Line farms and the German Lutheran Church in Sharpsburg during the hours before dawn of September 17. The narrative style is reminiscent of Bruce Catton's Army of the Potomac trilogy. The maps are clear, precise and well labeled. The September 14 Battle of South Mountain is described in seven chapters covering 221 pages. The capture of Harpers Ferry is covered in four chapters totaling 128 pages. Tom Clemens of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation states "By far the best work done on the Maryland Campaign . . . [it] will set the standard for many, many years to come." Yes, it looks that way.
on December 1, 2012
The sequiscenteniel of the Civil War had been pretty quiet for most of the year. It had even slipped up on me. I didn't realize it was upon us until last year when I read a review of a book in the NY Times book review and it mentioned it. But it seemed to be passing by pretty quietly, that is until the anniversary of the Antietam Campaign opened a floodgate of books upon us. Almost all these books comment in their introduction on the paucity of books on the subject considering it's importance. No more though.
The beauty of many of these books is that they complement each other. Leading the way was the publisher SAVAS BEATIE, who this year produced Brian Jordan's work on the battles of South Mountain "Unholy Sabbath". Then there was the latest entry in Brian Gottfried's Atlas series "The Maps of Antietam", followed by the second volume of Ezra Carman's indispensible book on the Maryland Campaign. From other publishers came Richard Slotkin's "Long Road to Antietam" that focuses on the politics and strategy of the campaign. And last but not least the subject of this review Scott Herwig's "To Antietam Creek" which promises to be the last word on this campaign.
This is a massive 800 page book that is easily the biggest book on my Civil War bookshelf, and this is only volume one! Chapter one starts off with a concise overview of the war in the East from the time McClellan took over as Union commander. The second chapter looks at the Army of Northern Virginia at the time the campaign begins. One of the advantages of a long book is being able to deal with things that are often ignored in most books, and Herwig takes advantage of that with the type of look at the Army that you rarely see in most books. The next chapter deals with the actual Confederate invasion of Maryland up to the occupation of Frederick. Chapters 4&5 deal with the Army of the Potomac and it's movements into Maryland. Chapter 6 deals with Harpers Ferry and so on.
Herwig is fair in his dealings with Lee and McCllelan in my opinion. He tells his story well without getting bogged down in reminiscences and battle detail. One surprising aspect of the book is that it takes it's story down to the eve of the battle rather than after the fall of Harpers Ferry as most two part books would do. The author gives an explanation for this in his introduction.
The reason I give this book four stars rather than five are the maps. There are 17 maps in the book which is far too few for a book with 650 pages of text. The quality of the maps fall in the I've seen better and I've seen worse category. I recommend that you read this book with Gottfried's atlas book close at hand. I would also like to have seen photos of some of the leaders described in the book.
All in all this is a must book for Antietam and Civil War buffs though maybe a little too dense for the casual reader. When it's finished this will be the standard work on the Antietam campaign for decades to come.
on February 14, 2013
I don't know that I can add much more to the plaudits that Hartwig's work has (deservedly) received here, but I am compelled to offer my own praise nonetheless.
To Antietam Creek is outstanding. It is well written, exhaustively researched and presented in a lucid manner (which is easier said than done when it comes to the Maryland Campaign). It is an outstanding work of history that is also a commendable work of literature.
To Antietam Creek has many stand-out features. Among them is how fair and judicious Hartwig's conclusions are throughout the work. Although I do not count myself as a fan of George McClellan, I do submit that it is time to take a closer look at his tenure with the Army of the Potomac and, if merited, challenge the conventional wisdom that surrounds and informs the historical view of his generalship. Consequently, I was very pleased to see that Hartwig is not out to "bash" McClellan and that he is instead interested in writing a work of history as opposed to a polemic. Thus, McClellan's initial moves in pursuit from Washington in early September 1862 generally, his actions in the wake of receiving special order 191, his movement to-and plan for battle at-South Mountain, and some of his movements on the 15th and 16th of September (particularly in view of the limitation imposed upon him by subordinates, time and weather) are, in contrast to their treatment in the hands of many other historians, viewed in a generally favorable and sympathetic light. However, Hartwig is not afraid to level criticism when it is due and McClellan (often), along with Burnside, Franklin, Hooker, Lee, Miles and others are rightly taken to task when the occasion warrants it.
I was also very impressed with Hartwig's presentation of the battles at South Mountain (which is as good or better than any of the works devoted solely to that subject-some of which are very good) and Harper's Ferry. As I read his description of the fighting at South Mountain I realized that Hartwig has a gift for describing the landscape of a battlefield clearly and the ability to weave that description into the battle narrative. I've been to South Mountain several times but I don't know if I ever "saw" it more clearly than I did when it was set before me by Hartwig. As to Harper's Ferry, while it is true that it has all too often received short-shrift in Antietam studies, that is not the case here. Hartwig details the travails of the garrison, the misadventures of Dixon Miles (while at the same time giving Miles high marks for the use of his cavalry in gathering intelligence as the Confederates forded the Potomac) and lays out the tactical situation in clarifying detail. I found the presentation of the fighting for Maryland Heights and the break-out of the Union Cavalry from Harper's Ferry under Grimes Davis particularly riveting and informative. Furthermore, Hartwig led me to truly appreciate the outstanding performance of Lafayette McLaws in relation to Harper's Ferry and to grasp the extent that William Franklin's loss of moral courage helped to seal the garrison's doom.
Finally, Hartwig's writing with regard to the eve of battle is a thing of beauty--it compares favorably to Bruce Catton's work in Mr. Lincoln's Army (to me thre is no higher praise) and paints a picture of a night of foreboding before that which was arguably the worst day in American history.
The only negative I have is with the lack of maps--but I was able to get around that by reading To Antietam Creek with the Maps of Antietam (another great work) next to me.
I know people were waiting for this work for a long time. In my opinion the wait was worth it. This is simply the best book ever written on the pre-battle of Antietam stage of the Maryland Campaign. I can't wait for the sequel.
on December 9, 2012
I have read a lot of books on the Civil War. Some good, some bad, some way out in left field. Scott Hartwig's "To Antietam Creek" is by far one of the best books I have ever read about the Civil War.
First, Hartwig's book is incredibly detailed. At 655 pages of text how could it not be? But this is not just Hartwig being verbose; he has done his homework. His personal anlalysis of events tends to be straight forward and to the point while still allowing the story of the event itself be told in incredible detail that you will rarely find in any history book. I have found many historians who love to spend pages on their analysis of an event that they described in only a few paragraphs. Not so with Hartwig. He is intent on telling the story which he does superbly (see next paragraph). That said, his analysis of events is fair and very convincing.
Second, this book is also a great story. Hartwig knows how to keep his audience captivated with every sentence. Even though I am very familiar with the events described in the book, I was hanging on every word, waiting to find out what happened next. It was similar to how I felt when I was reading Harry Potter for the first time; I could not put it down.
I also greatly enjoyed is look at the staff and leardership of the two armies. Again, incredibly detailed and his anlalysis is beautiful. I am seriously considering scanning those chapters to have handy as a reference booklet.
Finally, the appendices in the back. Before I even finished the book, I was referring back to that section just for personal curiosity. He has orders of battle; brigade, division, and corps troop strengths not only at the beginning of the campaign, but also on September 17 (day of Antietam). He also lists casualties at the brigade and regimental level.
In conlcusion, Hartwig's book is not only a great history of the campaign, it also makes an excellent reference work, making it, in my opinion, the definitive book on the Maryland Campaign. It is a must read for anyone interested in the Civil War. I cannot wait to read his work on the Battle of Antietam itself.
PS. Someone else mentioned that they were disappointed by the lack of maps. I can see his point, but I did not feel that was enough to lower my rating. Personally, I'd rather have an atlas handy anyhow and opened up to the maps I want so I don't have to keep flipping back in the book I'm reading. Honestly, I would give "To Antietam Creek" five stars even if it had no maps at all, mostly because I was so engrossed in it that I only referred back to a map once while reading. However, I have also been on all of these sites very recently which probably helped.
on January 4, 2015
There are a few problems with the Kindle edition (maps too small to read, some typos), but in general this is a detailed, fair and well researched look at the movements and battles--particularly the actions at South Mountain--that led up to the great clash at Antietam.
Some readers find regiment-by-regiment, hour-by-hour accounts too dense to enjoy. Personally, I love that stuff, but in any event Hartwig makes the going as enjoyable as possible with a gracious writing style.
on October 11, 2013
To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 is a superb retelling of this pivotal slice of time between the ending John Pope's disastrous summer campaign in Northern Virginia and the eve of the bloodiest day in American history, the battle of Antietam on September 16th, 2013.
This is a tremendous book. The prose is very well written and for such a large book it turns at a very economical pace. The thing I think is most remarkable is that Mr. Hartwig has taken himself out of the telling of the tale. Most authors make assertions and opinions and/or have a set "style". This book is different. The "controversies" of Antietam are covered and described almost without an opinion. For example, see the treatment of McClellan's telegraph to Lincoln describing the lost order. Facts are presented and the alternatives are discussed but these discussions are done in a neutral tone. This allows the actions and opinions of the men themselves to speak across the page.
My only criticism is that the first 100 pages or so seem to overly rely on quotes from other civil war authors. I think Mr. Hartwig can, and does, stand higher on his own two feet without the need to rely on other opinions or prose.
Absolutely looking forward to his treatment of the battle.
on June 16, 2013
Hartwig's great knowledge of sources and deeply analytical approach make this book a classic. He really leaves no stone unturned to help the 1862 Maryland Campaign come to life. Hartwig is unafraid to take on conventional wisdom, and he proves that much can still be learned about the road to Antietam. The only drawback: A lot of sentences are really long. With such a deep topic, sentences 4 or 5 lines long can detract from the overall work. Nonetheless, I'm very confident that Hartwig's second volume on the battle itself will also impress.
on August 31, 2013
this is an outstanding read! An office colleague and I share a Mutual interest in the Civil War - he "introduced me" to Hartwig's book and I gave it as a "gift to me from me" for my birthday in mid August!
Hartwig's insight is truly fascinating! The detail "rolling up" to the eve of the Battle is captivating! I can hardly put this down when I pick it up! It is my favorite book and sits on my end table AND nightstand next to my bed! I can't wait for the release of Hartwig's next installment - the Battle!
thank you very much for a great book AND a Great Offer!
damon e. gates
on July 29, 2014
Scott Hartwig has,remarkably, shed fresh light on the much written about Maryland campaign of 1862. If the depth and insight of this marvelously detailed tactical study of South Mountain and the other opening maneuvers of this crucial Civil War chapter can be duplicated for the holocaust of Sept. 17,1862, the result will be as close to a definitive Antietam as we are likely to see for very long time!