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I am a lifelong student of military history with particular interest in the Battle of Antietam. I work for the federal government in Washington DC and have two teenagers who I love very much. I currently volunteer at the battlefield and devote much time to the study of this battle and the Maryland Campaign. I enjoy collecting notable contemporary quotations by and about the men of Antietam. These words often add a degree of color and character not found elsewhere in their stories. A feature of this blog is the presentation of some of these quotes. My perspective comes from a 28 year career in the U.S. Army. Travels took me to World War II battlefields in Europe and the Pacific where American valor ended the tyranny of Nazism and Empire. But our country faced its own greatest challenge 80 years earlier during the Civil War. And it was the critical late summer of 1862, when Robert E. Lee launched the Maryland Campaign that fortune could have gone either way. It is an incredible story of drama, carnage, bravery, and missed opportunities that culminated around the fields and woodlots of peaceful Sharpsburg MD. So join me as I make this journey South from the North Woods.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Perfect Lion


Major John Pelham C.S.A.
Jerry H. Maxwell’s new book The Perfect Lion is the latest and most complete biography on the life of Confederate artillerist John Pelham.  The book is a well crafted and detailed account of the life of one of the South’s premier gunners - the Gallant Pelham. 

What was most fascinating to me was the struggle that Pelham endured to remain at West Point in the last few months of his senior year in early 1861.  When the nation fell apart and all of his southern colleagues went home as their state’s seceded, Pelham and best friend Tom Rosser gamely hung on to the admiration of their classmates long after their home states of Alabama and Texas respectively left the Union.  It was only the firing on Fort Sumter that made further tarrying at the Academy impossible.  Pelham and his closest friend Rosser’s adventurous journey through the now fully aroused Northern states to the borders of still neutral Kentucky is well covered.

The book fully treats all the battles that Pelham was engaged in from First Manassas to Kelly’s Ford where the 24 year old was mortally wounded. Pelham’s insanely brave exploits are very well told and it is no wonder that he earned the admiration of Stuart, Jackson and Robert E. Lee.  Yet this remarkably brave and talented gunner was one of the most modest and self-effacing of men and his men loved him for it.  Pelham’s relationship with J.E.B. Stuart is fully explored and the book while not focused on Stuart provides interesting insights into his personality and relationships (some not so warm) with his colleagues in the Confederate cavalry.  One would almost believe that the war was nothing but courting, singing, and strolls in between the fierce fighting.  We also are introduced to Pelham’s subordinate officers in the Stuart Horse Artillery.  Pelham’s last battle at Kelly's Ford on March 17, 1863 is thoroughly covered and this account answered a number of questions that I had about Pelham’s final hours.

The work is well researched with over 68 pages of notes and bibliography, eight photos, and eight battle maps.  However,  I was somewhat distracted by the author’s use of the word “army” to describe all levels of fighting formations.  As one example, he cites Stuart's restless prowls around Nicodemus Heights [and he] must have observed Hooker's army lurking closely in the darkness.  Also as a volunteer and guide at Antietam National Battlefield I know that despite what the book says,  D.H. Hill was not in command of the entire Confederate line at South Mountain.  Rebel elements at the southernmost gap at Burkittsville were lead by cavalryman Thomas Munford, not Hill.  By this account, it would also seem that Pelham's guns alone stopped the Federal attack at Fox Gap when in truth eventually much of D.H. Hills division and parts of Longstreet's wing were also drawn to the struggle and contributed greatly there.  

These observations are truly minor.  I enjoyed the book very much and in its entirety, The Perfect Lion is an important addition to the scholarship of perhaps Lee’s most able artillerist. I highly recommend it. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

New Trail Under Construction

The unfinished trail looking east. Branch Ave in the distance
Have you ever wished that you could easily hike from the Final Attack Trail or Branch Avenue all the way up the Hawkins Zouave Monument?  In a matter of months you will be able to.  Since last fall, the Park Service has been working on a spur of the Final Attack trail that will connect the Hawkins Zouave Monument path to Branch Avenue.  This past weekend, SHAF’s workday focused on continued improvement of this emerging trail.  About a dozen volunteers and rangers dug stumps, cleared brush, and moved rocks to further carve out this trail.  The two maps posted here show where the trail is going through.  It is along the northern boundary of parkland on the west side of Branch Avenue.  It will emerge somewhere on Branch Avenue near the 23rd Ohio Monument.  Here are several pictures along the new trail looking eastward toward Branch Avenue.

New Trail
SHAF Volunteers
Copes 4:20 PM
While the little plot of land on the park map is known as the Hawkins’ Zouaves monument, it also houses a monument to the Eighth Connecticut along with Isaac Rodman’s mortuary cannon.

On the 4:20 pm Carmen-Copes map Fairchild’s brigade (which had the highest casualty rate of any Federal brigade that day) is battling with elements of Drayton and Kemper’s brigades.  Coming up on their left is the Eighth Connecticut. Fairchild’s brigade is within yards of the town of Sharpsburg.  The battle hangs in the balance. 

Antietam National Battlefield has been working hard to add to the trail system around the park.  Last year the Tidball Trail was created to afford views of the artillery positions manned by units of the Federal Horse Artillery. This year you will soon have the opportunity to traverse this new trail over hotly contested ground on the southern part of the battlefield. The trail is not ready yet but it should be ready for the 150th Anniversary commemorations later this year. Look for a Park Service announcement soon.  

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Quote of the day has moved

Over the past three years of this blog's existence, my quote of the day feature has gone through several evolutions.  Since Antietam Voices is my forum for articulating the words of people who experience the Maryland Campaign, I have decided to move that column over to that blog and endeavor to actually place a new quote there every day.  Unlike SFTNWs, the post will be permanent and not disappear after I update it.  So journey over to Antietam Voices and take a look at the quote for today