I learned this morning of the passing of noted Civil War historian and scholar Dr. Joseph L. Harsh. While I never had the honor of meeting him, I have come to know his protégé and friend Dr. Thomas Clemens very well over the past two years. I sincerely believe that the Carmen Papers would not have yet seen the light of day and become accessible to the general public had it not been for the original work of Dr. Harsh and his encouragement to Tom. The magnificent The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 edited by Tom, is a testimony to the work that Dr. Harsh originally did in creating Taken at the Flood, the ground breaking and definitive accounts of the Maryland Campaign, and its two companion books Confederate Tide Rising and Sounding the Shallows. Dr. Harsh’s fair and balanced accounting of George B. McClellan was sorely needed and gives an appropriate and infinitely less biased perspective on the life and work of one of the key figures of the Civil War era.
As a volunteer at Antietam National Battlefield, I had not become acquainted with the works of Dr. Harsh until I started working at the park several years ago. As I was considering whether to become a guide, I was told in no uncertain terms by other guides and rangers at the park that I needed to read Taken at the Flood. It truly is the best book out there on the Maryland Campaign. Now, in an annual ritual that I observe, I reread all three of Dr. Harsh’s works during the long cold days of winter, when the visitors to Antietam are few and the fields often sleep beneath a blanket of snow. Each year the pages of my books get more dog eared and annotated but the story remains as fresh and compelling as ever. As spring returns, I come away from my readings, energized and ready for a new season of visitors to Antietam, and with more insights and an even more heightened understanding of the Maryland Campaign. For that Dr. Harsh, I am forever grateful. Rest in Peace.