Saturday, October 4, 2014

Book Review: The Long Road to Antietam

The Long Road to Antietam: How the Civil War Became a Revolution, by Richard Slotkin, Liveright Publishing Corp.,2012.

I thoroughly enjoyed this historical novel, which added the political environment to the Battle of Antietam.  President Lincoln was determined to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, but his cabinet convinced him he needed a military victory on which to hand his announcement of the proclamation. Coming off the Battle of Second Bull Run, the Confederacy was emboldened to attack north, into Maryland.  In this battle, the forces under General John Pope.  General George McClellan's men had been withdrawn off the Peninsula, and could have moved forward to change the tide of battle, but McClellan was no so inclined,as he was more interested in destroying Pope than the Confederates. 
President Lincoln had no choice that appoint McClellan over the Army of the Potomac, and McClellan  was always seeking more power, more influence.  This quest for power always tainted what he did and how he lead his men.  However, when the battle plans of General Lee  were found, and given to McClellan, he had the tool to destroy Lee's army.
The Confederate Army had taken refuge behind South Mountain, where there were only a couple of passes, while General Stonewall Jackson took his Crop to capture Harper's Ferry, and the federal arsenal there.  McClellan for once had the ability to get over his habitual slows, and attack the Confederates through South Mountain. The drove them back, and they took up position aaeound the town of Sharpsburg.
Even though capturing took longer than expected, Jackson had most of his men back into the defense around Sharpsburg, although tired.  One division under A.P. Hill was left behind to coordinate the capture of supplies and the surrender and pardon of the over 12,000 men. 
The federal attack started on Lee's left, where Joe Hooker's Corp attacked Stonewall Jackson's Corp.  The where able to stop them initially, but eventually three corp would attack on that wing, and drive them back.  Also there was attack in the center, where the federal came up against a sunken road, which was a natural defense.  It took some time before they could drive the Confederates from the road, but the Confederates finally had to reform around Sharpsburg, and their lines were very thin.
In the meantime, General Burnside was expected to attack on the Confederate right, where he had to attack over a bridge.  There was also a ford, but it took the troops too long to find the ford.  When this flank of Lee's was finally being overrun by superior numbers, A.P. Hill finally arrived and hit the flank of the attack and drove them back. 
Lee survived the day.  McClellan could have continued the attack, and finished of Lee's army, or at least inflicted unrecoverable damage.  However McClellan always over estimagted Lee's forces, or just didn't want an out and out victory which would have pleased the Republicans, and did not pursue his advantage. 
Lee stayed the next day, but there was no attack, and he crossed over the fords back into Virginia the next day. 
The repulse of the Confederates in Maryland gave Lincoln the victory he needed to support his announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation.  They would use the war powers act to emancipate the slaves in the rebellious states as war contraband.  With this decision, the war took on a new meaning.  We had put down on paper what the war was about, the freedom for the slaves.  In addition African Americans could now serve in the military, and almost 200,000 would serve.  This was about ten percent of the total fighting for the North, but represented almost 20 percent of those that fought in the last two years, when the African Americans were allowed to enlist.
On side note is the wealth involved in slavery.  Slavery is an evil, and the South should not have built their economy based on slavery.  At the time of the emancipation, slaves represented an investment of $3.5 billion.  The total net worth of the property in the United States at the time was $16 billion. 

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