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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Press Release–Civil War Barons Book Release Set

I recently received this information from Da Capo Press about an upcoming release.

Civil War Barons: The Tycoons, Entrepreneurs, Inventors, and Visionaries Who Forged Victory and Shaped a Nation

From prominent historian and Pulitzer Prize finalist Jeffry D. Wert, a multi-biographical work of a remarkable yet largely unknown group of men whose contributions won the war and shaped America’s future

Before the Civil War, America had undergone a technological revolution that made large-scale industry possible, yet, except for the expanding reach of railroads and telegraph lines, the country remained largely rural, with only pockets of small manufacturing. Then the war came and woke the sleeping giant. The Civil War created a wave of unprecedented industrial growth and development, producing a revolution in new structures, ideas, and inventions that sustained the struggle and reshaped America.

Energized by the country’s dormant potential and wealth of natural resources, individuals of vision, organizational talent, and capital took advantage of the opportunity war provided. Their innovations sustained Union troops, affected military strategy and tactics, and made the killing fields even deadlier. Individually, these men came to dominate industry and amass great wealth and power; collectively, they helped save the Union and refashion the economic fabric of a nation.

Utilizing extensive research in manuscript collections, company records, and contemporary newspapers, historian Jeffry D. Wert casts a revealing light on the individuals most responsible for bringing the United States into the modern age.

On Sale: November 6th 2018
Price: $16.99 / $21.99 (CAD)
Page Count: 288
ISBN-13: 9780306825132

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.