Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Carman & Clemens (ed.): "The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, Volume 1: South Mountain"

[The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, Volume 1: South Mountain by Ezra Carman, edited by Thomas G. Clemens (Savas Beatie, 2010).  Hardcover, 22 maps, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. 574 pages. ISBN: 978-1-932714-81-4  $37.50]

Although he fought in numerous battles east and west, Bvt. Brigadier General Ezra A. Carman will be forever associated with the battlefield at Antietam, where he led the 13th New Jersey infantry regiment. After the war, and with no prior historical training, he was appointed to the position of historical expert for the board overseeing the Antietam National Battlefield. Sifting through official documents and voluminous correspondence from participants, Carman created a campaign and battle history (as well as a map set) of unusual depth and accuracy. While the manuscript has always been at the center of serious Antietam scholarship, it remained unpublished until 2008, when an edited edition prepared by Joseph Pierro was released by Routledge Press. A concurrent project, this time divided into two volumes and undertaken by noted subject expert Thomas G. Clemens, came to fruition earlier this year with the spring publication of The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, Volume 1: South Mountain.

With the earlier publication concerning itself mostly with general editing and source verification duties, it remained for someone else to fully police Carman the historian, evaluating his sources at length and reviewing his interpretations. However, in order to properly handle such a monumental task, the evaluator himself needs to have a mastery of the sources that Carman had access to as well as the body of material that emerged during the century following Carman's latest revisions. Clemens is certainly among the handful of individuals that fit the bill. Errors and conflicts on Carman's part, duly noted, are inevitable, but what is extraordinary is how well Clemens found the manuscript to hold up factually. The notes, placed at the bottom of each page for easy reference, provide source references, scholarly disputation, background, and explanatory material. When using modern sources to evaluate Carman, Clemens relies heavily on the interpretations of his mentor, Joseph Harsh, whose three volumes are considered by many today to be the preeminent commentaries on the military conduct of the Antietam campaign.

In researching and compiling his material, Carman developed good relationships with ex-Confederates and the content and tone of his writing as pertaining to his former enemies is evenhanded, and in many cases quite positive. Alternating defense and criticism (sometimes contradicting earlier statements), Carman's writing seems a bit conflicted about McClellan and the planning and conduct of the Army of the Potomac's march to Antietam, but he is not the relentlessly dedicated critic that so many modern historians continue to be. Instead, Carman reserved his greatest disdain for Henry Halleck.

As stated before, Clemens's work will fill two volumes. Volume I takes the reader through the investment of Harper's Ferry and the fighting at the South Mountain gaps (Crampton's, Turner, and Fox), before concluding with the Confederate move behind the Antietam. A pair of appendices (orders of battle and an author interview), a bibliography, and an index round out the volume. 22 original maps augment the text. With them, terrain rendering is detailed and attractive; however, in my opinion, traditional NATO icons better convey information and instant recognition of org levels (e.g. regiment, brigade, division) than the book's chosen infantry and cavalry unit symbology.

In the overall picture, the maps are only a minor complaint. From reading the manuscript and Clemens's expert editing, one easily sees why modern Antietam scholars lean heavily upon Carman's pioneering work. One wishes all Civil War battlefields had been likewise gifted with such a worthy and dedicated veteran sponsor. Soon, with the completion of the pair of volumes comprising The Maryland Campaign of 1862, all readers will have easy and affordable access to a classic of Civil War historiography, as well as a mammoth editorial project of significant scholarship in its own right.


  1. Gary VanEssJune 29, 2010

    I'm half way through the book in three evenings. Excellent book that any Civil War reader will appreciate... I've read over 30 books on Antietam and the days leading up to the main battle ( big Iron Brigade fan ), and I can guarantee that every person who reads this book will learn many new things about those days, no matter how much previously known. This is history the way it should be presented.

  2. Thanks for the in-depth review, Drew. Tom did a masterful job (with Ethan Rafuse running a keen eye over the notes for us, which was much appreciated).



  3. Thank you for your review on "The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, Volume 1" by Tom Clemens. More information on the author and the book, including an excerpt, can be found at www.savasbeatie.com.


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