The Civil War: The stories behind America’s bloodiest day at Antietam

A new book looks at Antietam through the lens of stories of the people and monuments. Photo: Cover of the book

VIENNA, Va., November  2,  2012 — As the author of the Civil War Column, I am a fairly lucky person. Authors of all sorts send me review copies of their latest books, usually unbidden. They want me 1) to read the book, which I always do, and 2) then to write a review of it, a positive one preferred – which I frequently do not.  

There are, in my humble opinion, some books that are just so darn bad, either poorly written, poorly edited and proofed, or just so blandly constructed that after a few chapters, I simply give up. And then there are some that are so darn good, I cannot wait to review them.  And some fall in between.

The one I’m looking at today, “So You Think You Know Antietam,” is one I’m still trying to figure out what category to grace with its presence. It’s good and probably helpful to a certain group of Civil War followers, but it simply is not my cup of tea, be that a good chamomile or a bad Earl Grey.

Authors of the book on Antietam

Printed with a glossy cover in an 8” x 8 “ trade paperback style, it is more a walking compendium of every marker on the entire Antietam Battlefield, with an explanation and title for each one. Along with that, the GPS latitude and longitude coordinates are given for those who wish to follow that course of travel.

There are some 69 monuments at Antietam, most of them placed by veterans groups from the various regiments, as well as some state ones placed by the individual states.  Acknowledging that there was difficulty in the Confederate regiments to raise money for such things post-war, there are very few of them. 

The authors, James and Suzanne Gindlesperger, who first put together and published a similar book about the monuments at Gettysburg, have simplified the whole thing by dividing the battle area into color-coded sections, each one representing a chapter in the book. And the battle itself is divided into three specific sections, covering the three parts of that horrendous day of battle. Then the various markers are numbered and placed on the appropriate map. 

The assorted descriptions include side-stories of interest, such as that of Charles King, the 13-year-old drummer boy with a Pennsylvania unit, who was injured and died three days later, becoming one of the War’s youngest victims. 

I particularly appreciated the non-war stories, such as the one about the ship’s bell from the USS Antietam, an aircraft carrier, which was active during World War II and the Korean Conflict and now is placed just outside the Visitor Center. It sort of ties the old war and the newer wars together in a tangible way.

Pry House, interior recreated as hospital

It is hard to imagine the Philip Pry family, who with their five children and two freed blacks, staying in their home for the early part of the battle while it was transformed from a headquarters for Union General George B. McClellan to a field hospital. Philip Pry probably stayed to make sure his home would be still standing. He was not particularly successful; he made a claim for $2,500 in damages, but the losses far exceeded that. After the Union occupiers finally left, the Prys sold the farm and moved south to Tennessee. 

All in all, the book is well done for what it is, but I cannot imagine “seeing a battlefield” in this manner, as you would spend half of your time reading the prose and losing the feeling that is inherent in all bloody ground. It’s a mammoth undertaking and there are some who will fall under it’s choppy spell and love it. 

At the end there is a transcript of Lee’s famous lost order as well as an order of battle for both the Union and Confederate troops and an index. 

“So You Think You Know Antietam” by James and Suzanne Gindlesperger  is published by John F. Blair Publishers in North Carolina, 234 square pages long including the index, with 350 photographs, and carrying ISBN : 978-0-89587-579-2. It sells for $19.95. 

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Read more of Martha’s columns on The Civil War at the Communities at the Washington Times.


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Martha M. Boltz

Martha Boltz is a frequent contributor  to the long running Civil War features in The Washington Times America At War feature in the print and online editions. She has been a regular contributor to the original Civil War Page and its successor page since 1994, and is a civil war buff, historian, and writer. "Someone said that if we don't learn about the past, we are condemned to repeat it," she said, "and there are lessons of all sorts inherent in this bloody four-year period of our country's history."  She is a member of several heritage and lineage groups, as well as the Montgomery County Civil War Round Table. Her standing invitation is, "come on down - check the blog - send me your comments and let's have fun with its history and maybe learn something at the same time."


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