Antietam and the Need to Know

James and Suzanne Gindlesperger. So You Think You Know Antietam? The Stories Behind America’s Bloodiest Day. Winston-Salem, North Carolina: John F. Blair, Publisher, 2012. Illustrations. 234 pp. $19.95 (softcover), ISBN 978-0-89587-579-2.

Antietam and the Need to Know

Everyone needs to know or at least should know about the Battle of Antietam, especially considering how much there is to know about America’s single bloodiest day of combat. For those interested in a tactical description of the battle, turn to Stephen Sears’ classic Landscape Turned Red or even the more recently published Ezra Carman manuscript edited and annotated by Dr. Tom Clemens. For many of the stories behind the battle though, this volume is a good guide. It provides the stories relating to the monuments, memorials and markers to be found on the field, from individual unit, state, farms and other important physical locations to marker or location of the death of each of the six generals who were killed or mortally wounded in the fighting, of which there were three on each side. It is organized in chapters based on well known and significant geographical locations on the battlefield such as the woods (North, East and West), Bloody Lane, Dunker Church, Burnside’s Bridge, etc. and includes a final one entitled General, describing wayside markers installed by the War Department, artillery pieces, field hospital locations, fences and reenactors who are occasionally found there doing their living history presentations for the benefit of the public.

Organized by following the chronological sequence of the battle, the book starts at the north end of the field and works its way south. The authors provide a map at the beginning of each chapter, using numbers to locate a marker, monument, farm or structure site within the described geographical area. Following this orientation, they tell the respective stories behind each marker and monument and provide an illustration as well. With the exception of period photographs drawn from the Library of Congress, the illustrations are colored and well defined, some are detailed closeups of the object and head the story behind the individual marker. For the technologically inclined, the authors have also included the GPS coordinates for each location, whether one just wants to take a driving tour or plans to really get out and hike to find a little known or visited monument off the beaten path.

Basically, there is something here for everyone and among the highlights for this reviewer are the four appendices which follow the “General” chapter. Any book on the battle would be incomplete without some kind of mention or description of one of the most significant pieces of military intelligence ever provided to a commanding general: General Orders 191, the so-called Lost Orders. Indeed, a complete copy of these orders comprises Appendix A and gives the reader particular insight into Confederate movements and how the campaign unfolded, resulting in the fight at Antietam. The following two appendices are Orders of Battle for each army, Confederate and Federal, respectively. This information is always good to have in order to know which units were present and to better familiarize oneself with them in terms of a unit marker’s location on the field. Finally, Appendix D identifies the individual and his unit and summarizes the action and circumstances for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor at Antietam, of which there were twenty one, giving the reader a good idea of the heroism which occurred on that field and emphasizes the sacrifices made over the course of September 17, 1862.

This is not the first publication for the authors as they have previously produced the same type of guide for the battlefield at Gettysburg. Given the number of markers on that field, it must surely be longer and more extensive than the publication under consideration in this review. Also, Mr. Gindlesperger has written other books on the subject of the Late Unpleasantness, including one owned by this reviewer about the Battle of New Market and the VMI Cadets which, if memory serves, was informative and well written. In any event, it is impossible for one to know everything about any one event, as hard as one may try, but this is a good start and recommended for those who wish to make the attempt.

Stuart McClung

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