Civil War Book Review: UNHOLY SABBATH: The Battle of South Mountain in History and Memory, September 14, 1862

UnholySabbathTheBattleOfSouthMountainInHistoryAndMemoryJordanUNHOLY SABBATH: The Battle of South Mountain in History and Memory, September 14, 1862
by Brian Jordan

Product Details

Hardcover: 408 pages

Publisher: Savas Beatie (January 2012)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1611210887

ISBN-13: 978-1611210880

Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.2 inches

Mentioning the battle of South Mountain produces a limited set of responses.

The most is common is a blank look.

This is closely followed by “Yes, that skirmish before Antietam.”

A few people will mention Priest’s book on this battle.

Checking Amazon, I find two other books that treat South Mountain as something other than an extension of the battle at Antietam.

South Mountain is a battle for three passes or gaps, separating the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac in September 1862.  Possession of the Gaps determines the course of the campaign.  If Lee’s army holds the Gaps, they are free to act as they wish.  Losing the Gaps, forces them to assume a defensive position.  On September 14, 1862, the Army of the Potomac drives the Army of Northern Virginia out of the Gaps, forcing Lee to rethink his plans.  This is no small skirmish.  This is a full battle with the defense having position and the attacker having numbers.  The Army of the Potomac’s victory here forces Lee to assume a defensive position behind Antietam Creek, ending any advance north.

The author takes the first 100 pages to insure the reader if fully aware of the situation.  This buildup pays dividends at the end of the book, when we read about the memory of the battle.  The current view is different from the post war view.  The book tells the story of the three battles as standalone incidents.    This allows the reader to follow the action and better understand each battle.  This is not a problem as one fight has little impact on the others during the 14th.  However, we never lose sight of the “Big Picture”.  The author keeps us fully updated on each army’s actions and reactions.

The last two chapters present a unique and well-supported look at South Mountain showing why this is a critical battle.   This is the Army of the Potomac’s first clear victory.  They took the field and saw the rebels running away.  This victory is not limited to those fighting.  The entire army marched through one of the gaps, seeing the field and sharing the victory.  How South Mountain’s “history” develops is of real interest.

This is a well-written book, with maps, illustrations, Bibliography and index.  This book has REAL FOOTNOTES, at the bottom of the page!  This is something that is disappearing but makes checking statements much easier.  Savas Beatie is justly famous for handsome, quality books and this is no exception.  In addition to being informative, interesting and readable, it is a joy to hold.


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