Lately, I’ve been reading The Long road to Antietam: How the Civil War became a Revolution by Richard Slotkin. Now you might ask what’s a nice gal like me doing reading a war history.
I blame my father for my interest in the Civil War.
Dad made many business trips in his line of work and often brought me along for company on his journeys across the South. Whenever we were near a Civil War battlefield, he always stopped to visit. Today where the Park Service has set up dioramas to describe battles that took place during the Civil War, in 1950s, the South was still in a Depression, and the battlefields were mostly abandoned, the exception being Gettysburg which was “under construction,” i.e. the States were finally putting up monuments to their dead.
I’ve written elsewhere how Dad had thought he would go to West Point, but failed the physical. Dad’s family had a proud heritage, and he, being the only boy, was supposed to carry on the family tradition. I believe he regretted his failure to do so the rest of his life.
Although, I know war is often the only way to settle a dispute, it is not glamorous. And total war is awful.
Slotkin’s book does not pull any punches, it is REAL history, not a Romantic tale. For example, the Rebel soldiers were so sick with dysentery the Federals could track them by following their bloody feces.
Several chapters are dedicated to the actual battle along the Antetam Creek (to Sharpsburg MD) which Lee lost. However, McClellan, with many more troops and access to supply line, claimed Antietam as a great victory, although he remained on the East side of the Creek, watching the battle through a telescope. The battle was fought on the West side of the creek with both Lee, with his arms in splints, and Jackson in the middle of it.
Mostly a political history, in the remaining chapters Slotkin covers the struggle between McClellan and his superiors in Washington.
Because I am reading biographies and histories about US presidents and the context of their times, I found this book especially fascinating. I have read four other books about Lincoln, and the more I read, the more I am convinced he was one of our greatest presidents.
The third reason I m interested in Antietam is because Great Uncle Lorenzo (1) Adley was with the Fifth New Hampshire at Antietam. His sister, Ellen, my second great-grandmother (paternal grandmother’s grandmother) was so proud of him, she named her youngest son Lorenzo (2). I’ve written elsewhere about Uncle Lorenzo (1) who served from 1861-1865, was wounded four times, commissioned, and led a USCT, as depicted in the film Glory.