Interview: Rosebrock, “Artillery of Antietam”

21 05 2023

Friend James A. Rosebrock (Antietam Battlefield Guide and member of Save Historic Antietam Foundation and Antietam Institute) has recently published Artillery of Antietam. He answered some questions about himself and his work below. (FYI, Jim has provided me with images of all the documents from the Dixon Miles Court of Inquiry, which I still have not transcribed and for which I still owe him a beer or twelve.)


BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

JR: Thanks for the opportunity to talk to you Harry. I was born and raised in the Buffalo New York area (Go Bills!), and currently live with my family in Jefferson, Maryland about 20 miles from Antietam. I earned a bachelor’s degree in Russian history from Niagara University in 1976. I was commissioned in the United States Army in the ROTC program and served for 28 years retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2004. My military career included assignments in Germany during the Cold War, deployment to Grenada with the 82nd Airborne Division in 1983, and duty as an instructor at the Combined Arms and Services Staff School (CAS3). I subsequently worked for the Federal government where I retired from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 2021 as an operations officer and liaison to FEMA helping to coordinate Federal law enforcement response to natural disasters. I volunteer at Antietam National Battlefield and currently work with Antietam’s artillery detachment, Battery B, 4th United States Artillery. I have been an NPS certified battlefield guide at Antietam since 2009, and led the guide service from 2012 to 2018. I am a founding member of the Antietam Institute and am currently the Institute’s Vice President. Artillery of Antietam is my first book, but I was a contributing author for the Antietam Institute’s first book Brigades of Antietam.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War? Who/what were your early influences?

JR: In about the third grade, I received a copy of Bruce Catton’s Golden Book of the Civil War. Like many guys I know who grew up in the 1960s and became students of the Civil War, the beautifully rendered color maps of the battlefields with the tiny lines of soldiers and cannons fascinated me. I later received Catton’s magnificent 3 volume series on the Army of the Potomac. Catton’s beautiful prose inspired my lifelong interest. I still refer to his chapters on Antietam when I need a stirring quote. As a kid and during my time in the Amry, I was a big-time wargamer and had all the Avalon Hill and SPI Civil War games. Unlike some, our family vacations were never to battlefields, and I really did not start visiting them until I moved to Maryland after I got out of the Army. Now I am at Antietam every week giving tours or volunteering

BR: Why the Artillery at Antietam in particular?

JR: I had an ancestor who served with Battery M, 1st New York Light Artillery in the Twelfth Corps. Ironically, he reported to the battery on September 21, 1862, four days after Antietam but served with the outfit until he mustered out. I had ancestors who served in the artillery during the Spanish-American War and World War 1. My dad was an artilleryman in the Pacific during World War 2, and I have a nephew who served in Marine Corps artillery units. I guess I can say it is in my blood. When I was commissioned, I requested artillery as my branch but the Army in its infinite wisdom made me a logistician. I have ten books in my library, devoted to the artillery at Gettysburg alone. Except for a book titled Artillery Hell written in 1995, there is no single book that has ever been written about the artillery of Antietam. I thought that it was time for an in-depth book on the artillery batteries at Antietam.

BR: Can you briefly describe the overall impact of artillery in the campaign and battle?

JR: At Antietam, nearly 11,000 artillerymen comprising 116 batteries of 521 guns fired some 50,000 rounds of artillery in the 12-hour battle. While the book is organized by artillery organizations, I broke the action (and the maps) out into some eight artillery sectors of fire from the Nicodemus Heights – Poffenberger Hill sector in the north to the Harpers Ferry Road sector south of town. In each, there was at least one important takeaway that significantly affected the battle. It may come as no surprise that the batteries that experienced the heaviest casualties fought on the northern end of the field. These were the batteries of Joseph Hooker’s First Corps and Confederate Stephen D. Lee’s artillery battalion. One of the least appreciated areas was the Federal line of guns along the eastern boundary of the Cornfield and East Woods. Manned throughout the late morning and into the afternoon by batteries of the Second, Sixth, and Twelfth Corps, the fire of these guns prevented the Confederates from getting a permanent foothold east of the Hagerstown Pike. I also spend some time discussing the key role of the Confederate field grade officers (majors, and lieutenant colonels) who were instrumental in moving artillery to threatened areas of the field like the Reel Ridge as Lee’s infantry reserves were exhausted. These officers had wider authority to move numbers of batteries and mass fire at critical points than lieutenants and captains had.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, and what firmed up what you already knew? When did you know you were “done”?

JR: I began writing three years ago. Originally the artillery batteries were to have been part of a book that Brad Gottfried edited and the Antietam Institute published in 2021 titled Brigades of Antietam. Quite a number of Antietam rangers, guides, and volunteers contributed to this project. I have always been interested in the regular army organizations at Antietam and wrote the chapters on Sykes’ regular division for that book. We quickly realized that including the artillery in this book would have made it too large. I had already been conducting extensive research since 2014 on all the regular army artillery batteries with the idea of writing a book focusing just on them. Since I had accumulated a lot of material on the regulars, I offered to write Artillery of Antietam. A major stumbling block was that I began writing as the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down and I could no longer visit research centers like the National Archives and Library of Congress. This is also my first book and I had little idea at the start how long it would take.

I was surprised at how many references I found from Confederate artillerists attesting to Lee’s personal role in relocating artillery batteries during the afternoon of September 17 after the Ninth Corps seized the Lower Bridge and prepared to move on Sharpsburg. I also did not fully appreciate J.E.B. Stuart’s role in positioning Jackson’s artillery batteries on the morning of September 17. Jackson’s artillery chief Stapleton Crutchfield along with battalion commanders Alfred Courtney and Lindsay Shumaker remained at Harpers Ferry. Throughout the rainy night of September 16, four of Jackson’s batteries joined Pelham’s Stuart Horse Artillery on Nicodemus Heights where they were positioned by Stuart. Stuart also shifted the batteries to counter Sedgwick’s advance into the West Woods. Stuart doesn’t get enough credit for this. On the Federal side, Emory Upton played a surprisingly important role in the deployment of the Sixth Corps artillery.

I already knew how great Henry Hunt was as an artillery commander. Many people probably don’t know that McClellan appointed Hunt to take over the Federal artillery on September 5, 1862, just twelve days before Antietam. Previously Hunt only commanded the Artillery Reserve. Hunt like his predecessor William Barry was a very able administrator but he was also an outstanding artillery commander on the battlefield. With a minuscule staff, Hunt reorganized the Federal depleted batteries and got them ready for this fight in just 12 days. With all of this going on, Hunt on September 12 took the time to write a lengthy circular to his chiefs of artillery on the tactical employment of the artillery. I found this circular in Hunt’s papers and included it as one of my appendices.

I already knew that the Confederates possessed some excellent battery commanders like John Pelham and Willie Pegram who have books devoted to their careers. There are many others like William Poague, James Bondurant, and Charles Squires. This book brings to light some equally talented young Federal artillery commanders like Dunbar Ransom, John Tompkins, and Samuel Benjamin to name just a few. The reader will learn a lot about them and many other heretofore unknown battery commanders on both sides.

After completing chapters on the artillery batteries in each infantry and cavalry division, and the reserve artillery battalions, at Antietam, I felt I was missing something. I realized that while the Confederate batteries that fought at Harpers Ferry were covered, I had not addressed the Federal cannoneers who have never received much acknowledgment. The Federal cavalry escaped, and the infantry surrendered but the 700 men in six batteries from Illinois, Indiana, New York, and Ohio, are the only combatants on the Union side that battled the Confederates. Hamstrung by poor leadership and surrounded, outnumbered, and disadvantaged by their poor positioning, the six Federal batteries gave a surprisingly good account for themselves. The book also needed an introductory chapter for the reader to understand light artillery operations and the workings of an artillery battery. After writing that I added six appendices detailing numbers, casualties, and armament of the batteries. With that completed, I knew I was done.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick-and-mortar sources did you rely on most?

JR: I had a head start with all the information that I previously gathered on the regular army artillery at the National Archives and from Henry Hunt’s papers at the Library of Congress. I also visited the United States Army Heritage and Education Center at Carlisle and the archives at Norwich and Yale Universities before COVID closed everything down. I acquired every battery history that I could find including all the Virginia Regimental Histories Series which covered nearly all the 44 batteries from Virginia that participated in the Maryland Campaign. The three volumes of Ezra Carman’s Maryland Campaign edited by Tom Clemens, the Carman-Cope Maps, and the Official Records provided the foundation of the book. Tom shared over 115 letters with me from 70 different artillery officers and soldiers who corresponded with Ezra Carman. Many of the letters contain details of the fighting seen nowhere else. I shared their stories for the first time in Artillery of Antietam.

Individual chapters cover each division’s artillery batteries, the Federal Artillery Reserve, the five Confederate batteries of the General Reserve, and the Harpers Ferry federal batteries. The chapters discuss the origin of the batteries, a short biography of the commanders, and combat action prior to the Maryland Campaign. The length of the narrative on their actions in the Maryland Campaign varied greatly depending on how much information I could locate. For example, the chapter on Abner Doubleday’s division which includes Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery is long and detailed. The chapter on Confederate Major Hilary Jones’ battalion is much smaller. Jones left now report that we can find. I used whatever battery histories I had and of course, letters to Carman to flesh out the stories. Each chapter ends with a conclusion and some analysis of the role of that artillery command in the Maryland Campaign.

I have always been frustrated with books that have good content but incomplete end notes and poor indexes. I took great pains in citing sources and adding supplemental information in the notes. Colleagues who have written books advised me not to outsource the index. I’m glad that I did the index myself. I indexed each chapter as I wrote it and merged them all together when I finished the book. Every artilleryman that I write about is mentioned in the index.

I also wanted to create maps that focused on the batteries. My map maker is Aaron Holley is an amazing young cartographer who does all the maps for Antietam Institute publications. Together we devised eight artillery sectors that detail the opposing artillery lines on the field at various times of the day. While the infantry lines are shown, you can clearly tell smoothbore vs rifled guns on the maps, range information and well-developed terrain details. In addition to the 23 battlefield maps, there are five maps for South Mountain, Harpers Ferry, the fighting on September 16, and Shepherdstown.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

JR: I think it is doing well. I know that in the Antietam community, there has been a lot of interest and expectation. It is available only to Antietam Institute members until the end of May after which it will be available to everyone at the Antietam bookstore, other local outlets, and on Amazon.

BR: What’s next for you?

JR: I am looking forward to a little break this summer and going back to Grenada this fall for the 40th anniversary of Urgent Fury. I’ll get to experience “soldier memory” firsthand. The next book in the Antietam Institute series is The Commanders of Antietam. I am writing the biographies for all the artillery commanders. I plan to get back to the U.S. Army regular artillery, perhaps writing a book on each artillery regiment and its role in the Civil War, much like the Virginia Regimental Histories Series does for Virginia military organizations. There is probably another book out there on the artillery at Antietam as well, looking at it from a more integrated view instead of by individual artillery organizations. Thanks again for the opportunity to talk to you Harry.