Monday, September 17, 2012

Priest's Antietam

My Antietam note for the day.

John Michael Priest was recently interviewed on CWTR and he mentioned that White Mane will be publishing a revised edition of Antietam: The Soldier's Battle. I know many people don't care for his books, but when I read this one way back when, I appreciated the unique perspective and presentation.


  1. Drew, I have heard a lot of generic criticisms of Priest's works. The best I can gather is that Priest sacrifices critical historical analysis for the sake of dramatic battle narrative -- not that he makes things up, just that he favors the more dramatic primary sources despite their questionable reliability. Is that the same criticism you have heard?

    I agree with you that his Antietam book is a very good read from the soldier's perspective, and while it is necessary to read between the lines in a number of places to distinguish between a soldier's opinion and fact, the book definitely fills a gap in the much drier, more historical studies of the battle (i.e. Sears).

    Chris Van Blargan

    1. Chris,
      I've just read general complaints here and there about his research. I think Brett at TOCWOC asked his readers if they could supply specifics, but I don't recall how many takers he had.

    2. The only specific instance I have heard involved the claim of a Federal soldier (I think from the 7th Maine) that he had an officer in his sights whom he determined after the war to be Longstreet. Priest did not seem as convinced as the solider, and said Longstreet "may" have narrowly escaped that day, but did not provide any more explanation or analysis.

      Those critical of Priest noted that Longstreet was not in the vicinity at the time of the event, and concluded that his involvment in the story was likely a post battle embellishment. They further suggested that Priest uncritically related this embellishment to increase the drama of his narrative.

      My overall impression was that Priest's retelling of this story without analysis was akin to an author saying that the Gordon/Barlow story "may" have happened as Gordon claimed without critical review of the sources suggesting it did not.

      Chris Van Blargan

  2. Back last summer, I got to meet Priest. We were both signing books at the American History Store in Gettysburg. He was very nice, and, I've always enjoyed that "boots on the ground" look at battles. I think I have all of his books.

  3. I like his books. I think that they supply a unique soldier level perspective of the battles they cover.

    Just wish the maps were better.


  4. The first Civil War tour I had ever taken was some 20 odd years ago at Antietam with John Michael Priest. It was an incredible experience! He was incredibly knowledgable and passionate in his telling of the created for me what will now be a life-long interest in the Civil War, the battke of Antietam in particular.


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