Civil War Book Acquisitions: February 2012, Part 3
Title: Unholy Sabbath: The Battle of South Mountain in History and Memory, September 14, 1862
Author: Jordan, Brian M.
Publisher: Savas Beatie
Price: $32.95 (Hardcover); $9.99 (Kindle)
TOCWOC’s Take: I reviewed this excellent new book last week. Here’s an excerpt:
Was the Union surrender at Harpers Ferry or the Battle of South Mountain the more important event in the 1862 Maryland Campaign? Although proponents of the Lost Cause would have you believe the former, author Brian Jordan argues forcefully for the latter, going so far as to elevate South Mountain to equal importance with Antietam. Although this argument involves downplaying Antietam a bit too forcefully, Jordan is correct in elevating South Mountain to a stronger position. The author ultimately succeeds in writing both a solid tactical history of the battle as well as placing it in its proper context within the Maryland Campaign, showing a good grasp of the existing literature while skillfully utilizing a multitude of primary sources.
Unholy Sabbath: The Battle of South Mountain in History and Memory, September 14, 1862 is the best overall treatment of the battle I’ve read. The author argues for a reevaluation of the battle based on a review of veterans’ own words. He strives to give the battle greater importance in overall view of the 1862 Maryland Campaign at the expense of Harpers Ferry, and uses historiography to show that the Battle of South Mountain was continually and purposefully reduced in importance by Confederates in the post-war years who were seeking to make the campaign fit the Lost Cause model. Unholy Sabbath is well-written, accompanied by a good number of excellent maps, and goes beyond the fighting to fully cover the Battle of South Mountain. The author sought to combine academic history with more traditional military history and did well in this effort. Students of the Maryland Campaign will want to own this book as an essential new volume in the literature.
About this Book
Many readers of Civil War history have been led to believe the battle of South Mountain (September 14, 1862) was but a trifling skirmish, a preliminary engagement of little strategic or tactical consequence overshadowed by Antietam’s horrific carnage just three days later. In fact, the fight was a decisive Federal victory and important turning point in the campaign, as historian Brian Matthew Jordan argues convincingly in his fresh interpretation Unholy Sabbath: The Battle of South Mountain in History and Memory, September 14, 1862.
Most writers brush past the mid-September battle in a few paragraphs or a single chapter. Jordan, however, presents a vigorous full-length study based upon extensive archival research, newspaper accounts, regimental histories, official records, postwar reunion materials, public addresses, letters, and diaries. Readers will not only come away with a full understanding of the military actions at Fox’s, Turner’s, and Crampton’s gaps, but a deeper and more meaningful appreciation for the ways in which Civil War veterans and the public at large remembered military events—and why some were forgotten.
The Union victory on the wooded and rocky slopes provided a substantial boost for the downtrodden men of the Union army, who recognized the battle as hard fought and deservedly won—a ferocious hours-long fight with instances of hand-to-hand combat and thousands of casualties. Jordan demonstrates conclusively that South Mountain was the first major victory for the Army of the Potomac, and the first time its men held the field and were tasked with the responsibility of burying the dead.
Unholy Sabbath proposes a new rubric for evaluating this important combat by examining not only the minute military aspects of the battle, but how soldiers remembered the fighting and why South Mountain faded from public memory. Former Confederates true to the Lost Cause, argues Jordan, downplayed the victory, emphasized how outnumbered they were, and argued that their defense of the passes “protected the concentration of General Lee’s army on the field of Sharpsburg.” Union veterans, however, remembered South Mountain as a full-scale engagement wholly distinct from Antietam, and one where they outfought and completely defeated their Rebel opponents and disrupted the entire Southern invasion.
This richly detailed study, complete with outstanding maps, photographs, a complete order of battle with losses, and an in-depth interview with the author, is modern Civil War history at its finest.
Title: The Battle of South Mountain (Civil War Sesquicentennial Series)
Author: Hoptak, John David
Publisher: The History Press
Price: $21.99 (Paperback); $9.99 (Kindle)
TOCWOC’s Take: I purchased fellow blogger John David Hoptak’s book on South Mountain after reading Unholy Sabbath, mentioned above. The intent is to compare and contrast the two books. I also noticed blogger and National Park Service Ranger Mannie Gentile contributed the maps. Both men are very familiar with the South Mountain battlefields since they work mere miles away at Sharpsburg. Hoptak’s book is one in the ever growing Civil War Sesquicentennial Series by The History Press. I look forward to reading it.
In September 1862, Robert E. Lee led the Army of Northern Virginia north of the Potomac River as part of his Northern invasion, seeking a quick end to the war. Lee divided his army in three, sending General James Longstreet north to Hagerstown and Stonewall Jackson south to Harpers Ferry. It was at three mountain passes, referred to as South Mountain, that Lee’s army met the Federal forces commanded by General George B. McClellan on September 14. In a fierce daylong battle spread out across miles of rugged, mountainous terrain, McClellan defeated Lee, but the Confederates did tie up the Federals long enough to allow Jackson’s conquest of Harpers Ferry. Join historian John Hoptak as he narrates the critical Battle of South Mountain, long overshadowed by the Battle of Antietam.
Title: Second Manassas: Longstreet’s Attack and the Struggle for Chinn Ridge
Author: Patchan, Scott C.
Publisher: Potomac Books
Price: $26.95 (Hardcover); $14.55 (Kindle)
TOCWOC’s Take: Scott Patchan is a master of tactical level battle studies, having previously focused on the various 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaigns. I was excited to see this book was coming out last year and I’m happy to finally own a copy. Here Patchan looks at the confusing events of August 30, 1862, when James Longstreet’s First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia launched a devastating sledgehammer attack against Pope’s completely surprised Union armies. When no less a Manassas authority than John Hennessy agrees to do the forward to the book and praises it profusely, you know it is done well. My only issue is going to be finding the time to read this one soon given the massive number of review copies being sent in due to the Civil War Sesquicentennial. If you haven’t already, I would advise Second Manassas students to pick this one up. It obviously complements John Hennessy’s own classic work Return to Bull Run.
In 1862, looking for an opportunity to attack Union general John Pope, Confederate general Robert E. Lee ordered Maj. Gen. James Longstreet to conduct a reconnaissance and possible assault on the Chinn Ridge front in Northern Virginia. At the time Longstreet launched his attack, only a handful of Union troops stood between Robert E. Lee and Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia. Northern Virginia’s rolling terrain and Bull Run also provided Lee with a unique opportunity seldom seen during the entire Civil War—that of “bagging” an army, an elusive feat keenly desired by political leaders of both sides.
Second Manassas: Longstreet’s Attack and the Struggle for Chinn Ridge details the story of Longstreet and his men’s efforts to obtain the ultimate victory that Lee desperately sought. At the same time, this account tells of the Union soldiers who, despite poor leadership and lack of support from Pope and his senior officers, bravely battled Longstreet and saved their army from destruction along the banks of Bull Run.
Longstreet’s men were able to push the Union forces back, but only after they had purchased enough time for the Union army to retreat in good order. Although Lee did not achieve a decisive victory, his success at Chinn Ridge allowed him to carry the war north of the Potomac River, thus setting the stage for his Maryland Campaign. Within three weeks, the armies would meet again along the banks of Antietam Creek in western Maryland. Uncovering new sources, Scott Patchan gives a vivid picture of the battleground and a fresh perspective that sharpens the detail and removes the guesswork found in previous works dealing with the climactic clash at Second Manassas.
Title: The Peninsula Campaign & the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans & the Fight for Freedom
Author: Brasher, Glenn David
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Price: $39.95 (Hardcover); $25.08 (Kindle)
TOCWOC’s Take: Now this is an interesting book. I received my review copy earlier this week. Brasher argues that the interaction between Union soldiers and “contrabands” on the Virginia Peninsula in the Spring of 1862, including Black contributions to the Union campaign, caused many in the North to believe emancipation was a military necessity. I enjoy new books which challenge long-held beliefs. Where do you usually hear the term “emancipation”? It almost always first comes up with the Union “victory” at Antietam and Lincoln’s decision to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Brasher’s book is in essence saying, “you have it all wrong”, the more important campaign with regards to emancipation is actually the Peninsula Campaign.” I look forward to reading this one and seeing the details of Brasher’s argument. As an aside, I find it amusing and ironic that the Union general probably most associated with being in favor of waging a war which would not affect slavery, George B. McClellan, was in command during the campaign that ultimately ensured the Civil War would become about freeing the slaves.
In the Peninsula Campaign of spring 1862, Union general George B. McClellan failed in his plan to capture the Confederate capital and bring a quick end to the conflict. But the campaign saw something new in the war–the participation of African Americans in ways that were critical to the Union offensive. Ultimately, that participation influenced Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation at the end of that year. Glenn David Brasher’s unique narrative history delves into African American involvement in this pivotal military event, demonstrating that blacks contributed essential manpower and provided intelligence that shaped the campaign’s military tactics and strategy and that their activities helped to convince many Northerners that emancipation was a military necessity.
Drawing on the voices of Northern soldiers, civilians, politicians, and abolitionists as well as Southern soldiers, slaveholders, and the enslaved, Brasher focuses on the slaves themselves, whose actions showed that they understood from the outset that the war was about their freedom. As Brasher convincingly shows, the Peninsula Campaign was more important in affecting the decision for emancipation than the Battle of Antietam.