Book Review–A Fierce Glory

Martin, Justin. A Fierce Glory: Antietam–The Desperate Battle That Saved Lincoln and Doomed Slavery. New York: Da Capo Press. 2018. 318 pages, 256 pages of text. Index, notes, b/w photos, three maps. ISBN 9780306825255, $28.00.

When it comes to Civil War battles there are several that are most prominently mentioned: Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Antietam. Gettysburg is of course by far the most widely studied and written about with microhistories on topics that can not begin to be comprehended by the average reader. Antietam has not  reached that level yet. In his recently published book A Fierce Glory, author Justin Martin attempts to provide a more general history of the battle; one that the novice can sink their teeth into and use as a springboard for some of the more dense works like those by Carmen, Harsh, or Sears.

Antietam was the deadliest single day in American war history. Martin uses the generic number of more than 3,500 killed on both sides (XIII). The National Park Service provides us with the approximate number 3,650 killed and a total of 22,720 casualties (dead, captures, wounded). As John Meade Gould is quoted “how mighty easy it was to get killed or wounded that day.” (XI)

Martin has two focuses in his text; the Maryland battle including the main leaders McClellan and Lee and then Washington D.C. and the tragic hero Abraham Lincoln. Robert E. Lee is shown in a positive light, especially in light of the injuries suffered in a fall from his horse Traveller. Martin states that Lee was radicalized, truly turned into a Rebel, with the seizing of Arlington by Union forces. (132) McClellan however is described as being “…inflated; his broad shoulders, puffed-out chest, showy uniforms, and the alpha-rooster bearing.” (59) Despite this negative view Martin does stray from the often stated view that McClellan did not act in a timely manner when presented with Lee’s “lost order”; “McClellan responded with uncharacteristic alacrity.” (76) Lincoln is often portrayed in a tragic light, with the sickness and death of his son Willie being a major focus.  With the White House being a sad place for him, the President was known to spend many of his nights in the Soldier’s Home, located a distance from the hum of the capital. The Emancipation Proclamation is discussed  throughout the story as Lincoln waited for the perfect time to make his announcement. The book is finished with a section titled Further Explorations; suggestions for readers to visit.

Overall, this is a good book for someone just learning about the Battle of Antietam or for a general reader. They will not be overwhelmed with regiments, lower ranking officers, troop movements, and in depth battle analysis. Instead, a general history with coverage of major events such as the Rohrbach Bridge (soon to be nicknamed the Burnside Bridge), the cornfield, the sunken road, the Confederate retreat, and a fine section on the medical situation in the area during and after the battle, coupled with accessible writing is a good launch point for more in depth study.

This is not to say however I don’t have some quibbles with the book however. My guess that most of these are publisher related rather than author choices. Having three maps, one of which I consider useless (the map from the Soldiers Home to the White House), is unjustifiable in my mind. The general battlefield map is serviceable but hardly good enough and provides no real perspective. The map placing the town of Sharpsburg area is of limited value to the story. Another issue for me is the formatting of the endnotes. Sure, I prefer footnotes so as to not have to flip back and forth but I am willing to work with publishers. Instead of the traditional numbering system which lets a reader know there is a note there is nothing. Instead, there are page numbers listed and the reader is forced to hope there is a note for something they want to check on. Rather inconvenient in my view. Finally, the lack of a proper bibliography is quite bothersome.

For readers with a grasp of the battle or looking for new research leads this is probably not for you. For a reader new to the Civil War, the armchair traveler, or somebody with a casual interest this is certainly a book to consider. The writing is easy to follow and the pace of the book moves along well. The book will certainly find a place on the Antietam shelf in my library.

Thank you to Da Capo Press for providing a complimentary review copy.

 

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Library Additions: October 2018 (1)

Thank you to the good people at Da Capo Press for providing a complimentary copy of the new book A Fierce Glory: Antietam–The Desperate Battle That Saved Lincoln and Doomed Slavery  written by Justin Martin. ISBN 9780306825255, cover price $28.

From the publisher website:

On September 17, 1862, the “United States” was on the brink, facing a permanent split into two separate nations. America’s very future hung on the outcome of a single battle–and the result reverberates to this day. Given the deep divisions that still rive the nation, given what unites the country, too, Antietam is more relevant now than ever.

The epic battle, fought near Sharpsburg, Maryland, was a Civil War turning point. The South had just launched its first invasion of the North; victory for Robert E. Lee would almost certainly have ended the war on Confederate terms. If the Union prevailed, Lincoln stood ready to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. He knew that freeing the slaves would lend renewed energy and lofty purpose to the North’s war effort. Lincoln needed a victory to save the divided country, but victory would come at a price. Detailed here is the cannon din and desperation, the horrors and heroes of this monumental battle, one that killed 3,650 soldiers, still the highest single-day toll in American history.

Justin Martin, an acclaimed writer of narrative nonfiction, renders this landmark event in a revealing new way. More than in previous accounts, Lincoln is laced deeply into the story. Antietam represents Lincoln at his finest, as the grief-racked president–struggling with the recent death of his son, Willie–summoned the guile necessary to manage his reluctant general, George McClellan. The Emancipation Proclamation would be the greatest gambit of the nation’s most inspired leader. And, in fact, the battle’s impact extended far beyond the field; brilliant and lasting innovations in medicine, photography, and communications were given crucial real-world tests. No mere gunfight, Antietam rippled through politics and society, transforming history.

A Fierce Glory is a fresh and vibrant account of an event that had enduring consequences that still resonate today.

Civil War Trust Helps Preserve Battlefield Land at Antietam

Civil War Trust Release Header

September 30, 2015 – For Immediate Release

For more information, contact:
Jim Campi, (202) 367-1861 x7205
Meg Martin, (202) 367-1861 x7231

DEPUTY SECRETARY of the interior michael connor and CIVIL WAR TRUST celebrate PRESERVATION successes at antietam

Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael Connor joins the Civil War Trust to announce the protection of 44 acres of hallowed ground at the epicenter of Antietam National Battlefield

(Sharpsburg, Md.) – During ceremonies this morning at Antietam National Battlefield, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael Connor joined the Civil War Trust to announce the preservation of historic land at the battlefield’s epicenter.  Protection of these 44 acres will greatly enhance the existing park, expand the interpretive opportunities and enable visitors to better understand the September 1862 conflict.

“This land is exceptionally important to the story of Antietam,” said Connor.  “It is rare to preserve a property of such historic significance, and I applaud the hard work of organizations like the Civil War Trust who help make sure we can continue sharing our country’s history with future generations.”

Joining Deputy Secretary Connor at the news conference were Civil War Trust President James Lighthizer and Antietam National Battlefield Superintendent Susan Trail.

Protection of this parcel was the result of a national fundraising campaign undertaken by the Civil War Trust earlier this year.  The property was sold to the Trust by Lilli Wilson, whose husband and father-in-law served in the U.S. military.  That service was the catalyst for her and her husband’s desire to see the property preserved in honor of the young men, in blue and gray, who struggled on the property more than 150 years ago this month.

The tract, located within 300 yards of the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center and bordered on all three sides by NPS land, is surrounded by iconic Antietam landmarks such as the Cornfield, Smoketown Road and the Dunker Church.  Thousands of soldiers marched and charged across the triangular parcel during six hours of combat on the morning of September 17, 1862.

“This is one of the most meaningful acquisitions by the Civil War Trust in recent memory,” said Civil War Trust Chairman emeritus John L. Nau, III.  “Adding the Wilson Tract to Antietam National Battlefield is a critical step toward complete preservation of this battlefield and national treasure.”

In addition to the Wilson Tract, the Civil War Trust is engaged in private fundraising to preserve two other historic properties within musket range of the Wilson property:  a 1.2-acre parcel near the North Woods and six acres near the East Woods, where intense battle action also occurred.

Acquisition of the Wilson property was funded through private donations from Trust members.  Land restoration will be undertaken by the locally based Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF), in collaboration with the Civil War Trust.  Plans include removing the non-historic fence line — already underway by SHAF — as well as a modern barn by the end of the year.  Replanting 3.5 acres of the East Woods is expected to begin in 2017, and the modern home will be removed when the current resident vacates.

“As with all our major preservations projects, we rely on our members and partners like SHAF to see this effort through to a successful conclusion,” noted Lighthizer, whose work conserving land at Antietam began 25 years ago during his tenure as Maryland Secretary of Transportation.  “Their unwavering commitment to the Trust’s mission is something that continues to inspire me.”

Ultimately, the land will be transferred to the NPS.  Antietam National Battlefield, established in 1890, currently comprises about 3,200 acres.

“These 44 acres at the epicenter of Antietam battlefield will be an incredible addition to the park,” said Trail in her remarks welcoming ceremony attendees to the battlefield.  “Our visitors will gain a much clearer picture of the morning phase of the battle, and, I hope, take away greater reverence for the men who fought here.”

The Wilson Tract, which historian and author Dennis Frye has called “the bloodiest ground of the bloodiest day in American history,” saw more casualties than the more famous Cornfield, located just north of the property.  Repeated Union attacks and Confederate counterattacks swept across this land.  Despite the great Union numerical advantage, Stonewall Jackson’s forces near the Dunker Church held their ground, while Union assaults against the Sunken Road pierced the Confederate center.

“The action that occurred on the Wilson property during the Battle of Antietam is key to visualizing the full scope of the conflict,” said Lighthizer.  “Along with the essential work already being done by the stewards of these battlefield lands, the epicenter tract will give greater authenticity to the interpretation at Antietam and enhance this park’s standing as one of the best preserved battlefields in the nation.”

The Civil War Trust is America’s premier nonprofit battlefield preservation organization.  Although primarily focused on the protection of Civil War battlefields, through its Campaign 1776 initiative, the Trust also seeks to save the battlefields connected to the Revolutionary War and War of 1812.  To date, the Trust has preserved 41,000 acres of battlefield land in 21 states, including nearly 300 acres at Antietam.  Learn more at www.civilwar.org.

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(For more information about the Battle of Antietam, visit www.civilwar.org/antietam).