Review: Antietam, South Mountain, and Harpers Ferry: A Battlefield Guide

by James Durney on December 31, 2008 · 5 comments

Antietam, South Mountain, and Harpers Ferry: A Battlefield Guide (This Hallowed Ground: Guides to Civil War)
by Ethan S. Rafuse

Product Details

  • Paperback: 282 pages
  • Publisher: Bison Books (December 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080323970X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803239708

I am a battlefield walker!  I love to stand in the spot where … happened.  At these times, history becomes reality.  To get the most from visiting a battlefield you need knowledge of the battle or a companion that has this knowledge or a good guidebook.

Knowledge of the battle comes from study and discussion.  It is almost impossible for the average person to gain enough in-depth knowledge to make visiting multiple battlefields a vivid experience.  A companion paid or otherwise, is usually a good option.  The problem is they may not be available or able to communicate their knowledge.  Paid guides are expensive and money is not something we usually have in abundance.  This makes the guidebook option one of the best for battlefield walkers.  The book is always available, ready to go when you are and inexpensive.  Most of the books vary from very good to excellent.  Much of the difference depends on what you need from the guidebook.

Brooks D. Simpson, Mark Grimsley and Steven E. Woodworth are the editors of “The Hallowed Ground: Guides to Civil War Battlefields”.  This series has always been excellent and this addition meets and exceeds that standard.  Ethan S. Rafuse is an inspired choice as author for the Antietam guide.  He has in-depth knowledge of the battle, studied under Joseph Harsh and is an expert on McClellan.  Dr. Rafuse acknowledges “an enormous debt” to Thomas G. Clemens, Steve Stotelmyer, Mark Snell and Ted Alexander.  Any student of the battle recognizes these names as subject matter expert this guide is put together by the A Team.

What a guidebook it is!  In addition to Antietam, we have South Mountain and Harpers Ferry.  Antietam is 14 main stops with several have two to four stops.  In addition to the main tour, there are three optional excursions, Bloody Lane, Burnside Bridge and Boteler’s Ford.  South Mountain has five main stops, each having one to three stops.  The Siege of Harpers Ferry is two main stops each having three secondary stops.  These detailed tours will take hours to complete.  The amount of time needed for each of the tours is listed.  The “How to use this guidebook” contains all the information needed to make the tour an enjoyable experience.

Directions are detailed and complete.  I wish this were the book I had my last time on South Mountain!  I would have found the Reno Monument instead of driving up n down farm roads.  Once at the stop, Orientation places and faces you.  What Happened gives you a couple of paragraphs on why this is a stop placing you in the overall battle.  Vignette is a personal human-interest story from the battle, told by the men that were fighting at this stop.  Analysis brings the historical aspects into play.  Here the selection of Ethan S. Rafuse is inspired.  He presents a balanced picture of Lee and McClellan at Antietam.  This is very important after so much McClellan the fool school of history.  Another strong point are the Burnside Bridge tours, again the book avoids much of the now discredited history of that action.  A good four-page essay “After Antietam” places the battle in historical perspective.  An order of battle with an essay on “Organization, Weapons and Tactics” completes the book.

This book works on several levels: it is an outstanding battlefield guide and a good general overview of the Maryland Campaign of 1862.  In either case, it is a necessary addition to any Antietam library.  See you at South Mountain, with this book we can find the Reno Monument.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jacquie LeBel December 31, 2008 at 8:30 pm

Hello, retired as of Jan. 2010 I would like to now be able to get into an indepth study of the Civil War. Any recommendations for books as a new history buff. Thank You

Reply

Gil Renberg January 1, 2009 at 1:58 am

Jacquie,
In addition to any general histories (e.g., Foote, Catton, etc.) or books about specific battles or campaigns that people might recommend, I’d suggest getting Heidler & Heidler, “Encyclopedia of the American Civil War.” It’s an excellent reference work that comes to about 2800 pages, but for some reason is only $55 from Amazon. I’d have paid $100 and thought it wasn’t overpriced. Also, the “Civil War Battlefield Guide” does the best job of providing good overviews of all of the battles, even the small ones. So those are good works to have for quick consultations. I’ll let others make further recommendations, since I’m not even close to the most well read visitor to this site.

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James Durney January 1, 2009 at 1:37 pm

Jacquie,

Check Recommended Civil War Reading in Yahoo Groups. Another good source is the Amazon reviews of books. You can get a good idea of how different people reacted to a book and how much they enjoyed it.
For a general military history, I would read “The longest Night” by David J. Eicher. A second good book is “None Died in Vain” by Robert Leckie.

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James Durney January 1, 2009 at 4:12 pm

I would like to add a new “read me first”, it is “Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know about the Civil War” by Gary W. Gallagher. A second book to consider reading now is “The Legacy of the Civil War” by Robert Penn Warren.
This will help you understand the schools in ACW history and let you ID where an author might be comming from.

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