Interview: Stotelmyer, “Too Useful to Sacrifice”

19 02 2020

Steve StotelmyerToo Useful

2019 saw the release of Steven R. Stotelmyer’s Too Useful to Sacrifice: Reconsidering George B. McClellan’s Generalship in the Maryland Campaign from South Mountain to Antietam, from Savas Beatie. Mr. Stotelmyer took a little time to discuss his work, which is sure to raise eyebrows and hackles.

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

SRS: I am a native of Hagerstown, Maryland. After a stint in the U.S. Navy I earned a Bachelor of Science Degree from Frostburg State College majoring in Elementary Education. I also minored in English Literature and World History. I earned my Master of Arts from Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. My areas of study were mathematics and science, content and educational methods. I taught in the Washington County Public School System for ten years. One of the high points my fifth-grade students looked forward to in the spring was the day long field trip to the Antietam Battlefield. Eventually I made a career change into surveying and that eventually led to civil engineering. My new employment took me to Frederick where I spent over twenty-five years. My daily commute throughout those years carried me directly through the South Mountain battlefield.

Shortly after my career change in 1988, I became extremely interested (my wife would say obsessed) about the fate of 58 dead Confederate soldiers dumped down a farmer’s well at Fox’s Gap after the battle of South Mountain. I knew that Fox’s Gap, just like Antietam, was a real place and this led me to seek out the location and story of those unfortunate souls dumped in that well. As with many events in the Maryland Campaign I discovered there were actually two stories; one tale was legend and the other was fact. The legend blamed the farmer Daniel Wise for the deed and the facts led to a Union burial detail.

My curiosity in the Legend of Wise’s Well brought me into contact with others interested in the South Mountain battlefield. At that time there was a real possibility of the ground behind the Reno Monument at Fox’s Gap being developed for a private building lot. That situation resulted in my becoming a founding member of the Central Maryland Heritage League (CMHL) in 1989. Our initial purpose was to purchase that ground and save it from being developed. I served as the group’s Historian and briefly as President before my departure in 2000. CMHL was not only successful in saving the Reno Monument property but also gained a modest amount of success increasing the public’s knowledge of the Battle of South Mountain. Eventually we were able to save over 30 acres of that endangered battlefield. My research into the fate of those dead 58 Confederate soldiers put into the well at Fox’s Gap resulted in the publication of The Bivouacs of the Dead: The Story of Those Who Died at Antietam and South Mountain in 1992.

Since its creation I have served as a part-time volunteer and historical consultant for the South Mountain State Battlefield. Currently I serve as a Volunteer Battlefield Ambassador and NPS licensed Tour Guide at Antietam National Battlefield (see their website).

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War? 

SRS: It is near impossible to grow up in Hagerstown and not even become remotely aware of the American Civil War. I was 12-years old in 1962 and that year not only saw the Bicentennial Anniversary of the founding of Hagerstown, but also the Centennial Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. I would have to credit my father for generating my interest in the Civil War. He had no great passion for history, but he belonged to the Maryland National Guard and Maryland donated their services during the Antietam Centennial. It was the only time in his entire life I ever saw him grow a beard. I figured there had to be something important about the Civil War if it caused Joseph Robert Stotelmyer, Jr. to grow a beard.

BR: You’re an Antietam Battlefield Guide. What got you interested in the battle to the extent you pursued that?

SRS: Ever since I can remember Antietam has always been a part of my life and a special place. I can truthfully say that I have been visiting Antietam since before I was born. I have a treasured old black and white photo of my mother and father at the top of the observation tower at Bloody Lane and mom has the proverbial baby bump and it is me. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my parents picnicking at the Philadelphia Brigade Park with a blanket spread out in the shade playing Scrabble on a lazy Sunday afternoon while me and my sisters played around (and on) that towering monument. I also remember Saturday afternoon visits to Lohman’s Souvenir Stand at Bloody Lane. Dad would get me a soda and candy bars (for a quarter) and we would always end up at the tower. I have vague memories of a clear hilltop where the current Visitor Center now stands. My grandmother knew some farmers in Southern Washington County and sometimes in the early Spring my father would take her and my mother dandelion hunting.

Our travels took us over the Burnside Bridge (in those days it was still open to traffic). I was impressed by the monuments attached to the bridge at that time. I didn’t understand why they were on the bridge, but I was old enough to know something was special about that bridge.

I became aware that something very special happened at Antietam during the Centennial celebration and that sparked a lifelong search to find out what made the battle so important. I camped on the battlefield as a Boy Scout and continued to visit with family and friends as a teenager. As a young adult I taught fifth-grade at an elementary school in Hagerstown. Every Spring I would take them on a day long field trip to the battlefield. Every trip was a learning experience for me as well. I met my wife while we were both teachers and as fate would have it, we purchased a home within 10 minutes driving time to Antietam. It remained a popular place to visit with family and friends. My wife also played violin with the Maryland Symphony. In 1986 family history seemed to be repeating itself as my wife was 8 months pregnant with our second daughter during the first Salute to Independence. Consequently those 4th of July weekends became yet another special family memory connected to Antietam.

This was about the same time as my career change from teaching to surveying. Because I worked in Frederick my morning commute took me through Turner’s Gap. My daily journeys over South Mountain sparked an interest in the Maryland Campaign that continues to this day. Many people think I’m a Civil War buff. Actually, I’m not; for me it is just local history. When I retired, I discovered that the Antietam Guides were taking applications for the guide exam. It seemed like the natural thing to do. Becoming a guide at Antietam has provided me the opportunity to share my lifelong process of discovery about that special place. I continue to learn with every tour I give. I am often asked by visitors how long have I been giving tours at the park. I tell them officially since 2013, unofficially as long as I can remember.

BR: Over the past twenty years or so, the worm has, to some extent and despite stiff resistance, turned for George McClellan. Joseph Harsh, Ethan Rafuse, Tim Reese, Tom Clemens, and most recently Dennis Frye have all contributed to this altered view. Can you describe your own personal journey with the Young Napoleon?

SRS: I grew up with the standard anti-McClellan stereotype of the slow timid commander who did not like to fight. I often refer to these beliefs as the three pillars of the Bad General Stereotype. Furthermore, the battle of Antietam was always the standard tale of Robert the Bold vs. George the Timid (Joe Hash’s phrasing, not mine). I believed these stereotypes as being true the better half of my adult life. I credit two people with changing that perception. My early days with CMHL and battlefield preservation efforts on South Mountain brought me into contact with a kindred soul who was instrumental with preservation efforts at Antietam, Thomas G. Clemens. I think I first met Tom when CMHL was trying to purchase some Iron Brigade battlefield east and below Turner’s Gap (sorry Tom, you know, and I know it’s Gibbon’s Brigade). We were touring the property and I was attempting an overview of the Maryland Campaign and made some statement about the Lost Orders to the effect that a more aggressive commander might have made better use of the once in a lifetime opportunity fate handed to him (you know the standard spiel). Rather than call me out publicly, Tom waited until the tour was over and quietly took me aside and gave me a few things to think about. I have always believed in the old adage “Don’t talk when you can listen.” At the time I knew Tom taught at the Hagerstown Junior College and to hear him talk about McClellan in a positive manner greatly impressed me that day. Tom gave me something quite different to think about that was at odds with what I grew up believing.

The other person that greatly influenced me was Joseph L. Harsh. In September 1998 CMHL held a fund-raising re-enactment near Boonsboro. This was shortly before the publication of Taken At The Flood. I had no idea at the time who he was, but Tom had suggested him as a guest speaker. Joe graciously consented to donate his time and spoke on Saturday afternoon. I remember a rather heated argument after he spoke with someone in the crowd who just would not accept Joe’s assertion that it was an aggressive McClellan Lee faced in Maryland. Afterwards Joe had some time to kill before his ride arrived and he sat with me and helped out at CMHL’s information booth. I actually spent the better part of a Saturday afternoon talking and listening to Joe Harsh chat about McClellan and the Maryland Campaign. After speaking with Tom and Joe there was no going back, I never looked at McClellan the same again.

My personal journey with the Young Napoleon has resulted in a complete debunking of the Bad General Stereotype. McClellan was not slow in the Maryland Campaign. Divisions were covering 8 to 10 miles a day on roads little better than modern gravel driveways. In the words of Robert E. Lee, “the enemy was advancing more rapidly than was convenient.” McClellan was not timid. He aggressively attacked Lee three times in six days at South Mountain, Antietam, and Shepherdstown. Furthermore, at Antietam he attacked Lee, it wasn’t the other way around. What is remarkable is that McClellan attacks Lee believing he is outnumbered and knowing that for the better part of the battlefield Lee holds the high ground. McClellan does not believe he has the required 3:1 attack ratio taught at West Point necessary to carry the position (in his mind’s eye he doesn’t even have parity). Furthermore, he knows Lee is an engineer like himself (they both served on the staff of Winfield Scott in the Mexican War). As an engineer it was logical to assume his enemy had entrenched his position or constructed field works. Attacking an entrenched enemy in an elevated position with less that overwhelming force is certainly not the hallmark of a timid commander. The last pillar is the most easily demolished. The general who did not like to fight was directly responsible for the single day’s worst bloodletting in our nation’s entire history. Clearly the stereotype is flawed and, in my opinion, the characterization should be George the Courageous vs Robert the Reckless.

BR: Can you describe and, if you like, defend Too Useful to Sacrifice? 

SRS: My favorite Lincoln biographer, James Garfield Randall, wrote in 1945 that George B. McClellan “is most bitterly assailed, not by those who have gone afresh into the elaborate sources to restudy his campaigns, but by those who repeat or perpetuate a party bias.” Many people are not aware that most of the negative elements of the McClellan stereotype popularized over the years had their origins in the Presidential Election of 1864 when Democrat McClellan ran against the incumbent Republican President Lincoln. Politics is politics and to discredit McClellan the candidate it was necessary to discredit McClellan the General. The groundwork for destroying McClellan the general was laid in pamphlet literature that survived for years on library shelves. That is the party bias Randall spoke of and it survives to the present. Randall identified 16 political themes used by writers to propagate the bias (it is interesting to note that a very popular book written about Antietam in the 1980’s scores a perfect 16 out of 16). What I have attempted to do with Too Useful To Sacrifice is go afresh into the primary sources and restudy the Maryland Campaign of 1862.

The title of the book is taken from something President Lincoln is purported to have said to his secretary John Hay. It occurred after Lincoln restored McClellan to command following Second Manassas. There was strong opposition against McClellan in the President’s Cabinet. It was generally believed he had betrayed Gen. John Pope. According to Hay, Lincoln told him, “Unquestionably he has acted badly toward Pope! He wanted him to fail. That is unpardonable, but he is too useful just now to sacrifice.” The book is not a comprehensive treatment of the Maryland Campaign (for that I would definitely recommend the works of both Clemens and Harsh). I provide five chapters that deliver thought-provoking essays regarding major themes of the campaign.

Chapter 1 addresses the discovery of the Lost Orders. A few of my arguments are that its finding was not the singular event it is made out to be; it did not hasten McClellan’s army; the alleged 18-hr delay between the finding and McClellan’s orders to march to South Mountain is a myth; and that South Mountain and Antietam would have occurred regardless of the finding of the document.

Chapter 2 is about the Battle of South Mountain.

Chapter 3 covers the September 15 pursuit of Robert E. Lee; the true Prelude to Antietam.

Chapter 4 explores the influence of the Battle of Second Manassas upon people and events at Antietam. It also debunks the myth of McClellan’s unused 20,000 reserves.

Chapter 5 deals with the post Antietam supply crisis and the Lincoln-Stanton-Halleck triumvirate conspiring in the background against McClellan. The supply crisis was genuine and not a figment of the Bad General’s imagination. There is strong circumstantial evidence presented that the supply crisis was deliberately engineered by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton as part of his documented efforts to oust McClellan from the army.

I realize it is an uphill battle all the way. So much anti-McClellan bias has been repeated over the years that there exists a historical consensus that he was a Bad General. It is so ingrained in the national consciousness that it is seldom questioned. Even people who are not Civil War buffs, if asked about McClellan will likely respond that he was the general Lincoln said had the Slows. People however are not to blame. The documentaries they watch and most of the popular books they read perpetuate the consensus. But consensus is not fact; it is collective opinion and I hope to seriously challenge that popular opinion. To that effect, to go afresh, I have employed over 150 primary sources and 100 scholarly secondary sources. Another of my favorite historians and veteran of the Maryland Campaign, Emory Upton, once mused in 1912, “seeking information at the point of the bayonet is one thing, and looking for it on the shelves of a library is another.” I have attempted to use the experience of those who participated and not those who repeat the party bias in the pamphlets on the library shelves. I hope I have done it in a manner that even the non-Civil War buff can find interesting.

BR: What have you found the greatest obstacle in your attempt at reconsidering McClellan’s generalship in the Maryland Campaign?

SRS: There is not one, but two obstacles that immediately handicap any attempt at accurately portraying Gen. McClellan’s conduct not only in the Maryland Campaign, but in any aspect of the war as well: Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee.

At the outset, it should be noted that the mere mention of Abraham Lincoln’s name frequently hamstrings any attempt at an even-handed accounting for George B. McClellan. Most popular histories recount the events of the Civil War from President Lincoln’s viewpoint (or what they think is Lincoln’s viewpoint). Joe Harsh identified this perspective as the Unionist Interpretation. Others have called it the Centennial Theme. Writers espousing this point of view insist the results of the Civil War: the preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery are attributable primarily, if not solely, to President Lincoln. They also acknowledge that the war was a great national tragedy that cost too many lives, too much time, too much destruction. Adherents of this interpretation assume that victory might have come sooner and are critical of anybody who may have hindered victory, especially by causing delays. The standard theme of the Unionist histories is that the president’s greatest problem was finding a general who would win the war for him. In this scenario Lincoln suffers through a sorry lot of candidates until Ulysses S. Grant appears, whereupon the doom of the Confederate States was sealed. A constant in the Unionist theme is that McClellan was the first and sorriest of the candidates to try the president’s patience.

Abraham Lincoln is perhaps the greatest American heroic symbol in our collective culture and in the eyes of popular history, he stands as a martyr by tragic assassination for his success. Honest Abe has become many things to many people. For a large number of Americans, he is Father Abraham, the Great Emancipator. For an even larger number he is the man responsible for single-handedly saving the Union. Few historians have been willing to honestly appraise McClellan because it would mean criticizing the martyred Lincoln. James G. Randall, who Joe Harsh considered the greatest Lincoln scholar, provided the most succinct summation of the Unionist Theme I have ever read, “It is assumed that if one is pro-Lincoln, he must be anti-McClellan.”

The final nail in the coffin regarding an appraisal of McClellan is the fact that his story is tainted from the beginning to be one of failure because Lincoln sacks him and removes him from command. There are varied reasons behind the decision, some petty and some political, but none military as the Unionist theme would have you believe. Regardless, after November 7, 1862, when McClellan is relieved of command and leaves the army, the Young Napoleon’s image in popular history is fixed: he forever becomes the Bad General Lincoln was forced to fire.

To a lesser extent any attempt at an honest appraisal of McClellan faces a similar difficulty with Robert E. Lee. As with Lincoln, an established perspective surrounds Lee’s story. Historian Alan T. Nolan calls it the Lee Tradition. Among its certain unmistakable earmarks are that Lee was a reluctant American who sided with his state over his country. Marse Robert is often held up as the personification of the Christian gentleman. A master military strategist and tactician, he often appraised his opponents and their intentions with near clairvoyant insight. Above all, Robert the Bold was audacious. It is the antithesis of McClellan and the cornerstone of the Lee Tradition, manifesting itself in his admirable predilection for the offense. Amazingly, until the publication of Joe Harsh’s Taken At The Flood, Lee was very much immune from the analysis and evaluations that are the conventional techniques of history. Almost all who wrote about Lee previously, especially Southern writers, have accepted Lee entirely on his own terms. If he said something was so, it was accepted as so. Analysis of Lee’s activities usually stopped with a determination that he did what he thought was right. Because of the Lee Tradition apparently, few historians before Harsh dared question whether Lee’s actions were ethical, wise, or even rational. Historian T. Harry Williams summed up the popular attitude and provided the most succinct description of the Lee Tradition when he wrote, “Whatever Lee did was right because he was Lee.”

As they must with Lincoln, any person attempting an honest appraisal of McClellan must tread carefully with any criticism of the audacious Lee. It is beyond strange that a general commanding an army engaged in armed insurrection against the United States of America has become an iconic hero in America’s popular culture. He represents one of the most appealing of tragic themes, the man who goes down in defeat battling against overwhelming odds. To this day throughout much of the nation he embodies the Lost Cause. Honest appraisals of Lee often invite the charge of trying to change history.

I am constantly surprised by the number of visitors to Antietam that are not aware of Lee’s debilitating injuries which plagued and hindered him throughout the Maryland Campaign. It is understandable; I have never been able to find an illustration accurately showing Lee’s true physical condition in the campaign. Showing Robert E. Lee as a frail invalid riding in an ambulance with both hands bound tightly in splints and the right arm in a sling would be heretical to the Lee Tradition. The image of a national iconic hero that can’t dress himself, feed himself, or take care of his own toilet without help is one many visitor’s refuse to accept. As you know there is actually a monument at Antietam portraying Lee on horseback holding a pair of binoculars, that simply is not an accurate portrayal of him in the Maryland Campaign. Such is the staying power of the Lee Tradition.

Together, the Unionist Theme and the Lee Tradition tend to bias most narratives that focus on McClellan’s activities. Because of them a fair appraisal of McClellan is an uphill struggle all the way, if not impossible. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” goes an old saying in American popular culture. As I previously stated, the stereotype of McClellan as the Bad General has become so entrenched that it amounts to a historical consensus, and the Unionist Theme and the Lee Tradition has cemented it in popular American culture. Indeed, we could easily mimic the Lee Tradition by stating an antithetical McClellan Tradition that permeates traditional history: Everything McClellan did was wrong because he was McClellan.

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, what firmed up what you already knew?

SRS: This book was decades in the making. After the publication of Bivouacs of the Dead, and while still a member of CMHL, I embarked on writing a book about the Battle of South Mountain. To put the battle in context required writing a book about the Maryland Campaign. There was a lot about the campaign I did not know. In the process of learning about the campaign I had to study the two commanders involved with the campaign. I began to learn that a lot of what I thought I knew about McClellan simply was not true. My conversations with Tom and Joe cemented that fact. I was determined to not repeat the myth and stereotype others had presented as fact. Too Useful To Sacrifice grew out of that effort.

In the beginning the biggest obstacle was back-sourcing popular books and locating those sources. I was extremely fortunate to have access to both the Hagerstown and Frederick public libraries. They both have special collections that proved extremely helpful. There were also many trips to the old USMHI at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In the days before the internet (I’m getting old) their library and manuscript division were valuable resources. I was also extremely fortunate to have been a volunteer at Antietam Battlefield at the time. In their library they have a collection of primary sources researched by rangers and letters and diaries of ancestor participants donated by visitors over the years that is truly unique.

I was greatly surprised at how ill-prepared Lee was for South Mountain and the effect that battle had upon his campaign. McClellan caught him totally by surprise and delivered a blow from which Lee never fully recovered. Although many Southern writers often claim it as somewhat of an operational victory for Lee because it bought him a chance to regroup at Sharpsburg, it was the surrender of Harpers Ferry that gave him that opportunity, not South Mountain. Lee had actually decided to abandon his campaign in Maryland and move back into Virginia after South Mountain. South Mountain was the turning point of the campaign, and Joe Harsh was right: it was an aggressive McClellan that caused that battle to occur.

I already knew that military sources generally spoke favorably of McClellan’s leadership. But I was surprised at the number of competent military men who experienced an epiphany regarding McClellan. Even Francis Palfrey, a staunch critic, had to admit “there are strong grounds for believing that he was the best commander the Army of the Potomac ever had.” Theodore Lyman, of Gen. Meade’s staff, admitted later in the war that he was not fanatic about any general and then declared, “I am forced to the conclusion that McClellan (who did not have his own way as we have) managed with admirable skill. Mind, I don’t say he was perfect. I say he was our best.” I was especially astonished by Emory Upton. Upton was a bit of a prodigy. He entered the Civil War as a 2nd Lt. of artillery (was with Franklin’s VI Corps in the Maryland Campaign) and by war’s end, at age 25, had served in all 3 branches, artillery, cavalry, and infantry. He stayed in the army as a career officer. He is credited as the father of the modern American General Staff. In 1912 his comprehensive The Military Policy of the United States was published posthumously. Upton, an ardent abolitionist whose sympathies were strongly Republican and anti-McClellan at the war’s beginning, admitted to his lifelong friend Henry Du Pont in 1879, “I now regard McClellan in his military character, a much abused man.” That same year he wrote future President James A. Garfield that he once believed McClellan had not done his “whole duty to the country,” but in the process of writing his manuscript, “I have been compelled to change my mind.” Finally, according to his son, even Robert E. Lee, when asked after the war which of the federal generals he considered the greatest, replied “McClellan, by all odds.”

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most? When did you know you were “done”?

SRS: Research on the Maryland Campaign has pretty much been ongoing since the days of taking my fifth-graders to Antietam. The easy thing at present is that most of the stuff I had to get at brick and mortar libraries in the past is now available on the internet.

I bring my background in science to my writing. With the Scientific Method one forms a hypothesis, and then devises an experiment to prove or disprove the hypothesis. If you prove it fine, if not then revise the hypothesis and start over. With accurate history one starts with a statement, consensus, or assumption and then one looks for primary sources or indisputable facts to prove or disprove the them. If you find reputable primary accounts fine, if not then you have to accept the statement, consensus, or assumption. Unlike science, the hard part with history is being able to tell the difference between a statement, consensus, or assumption and an indisputable fact. This can also sometimes be true with primary sources. Just because something was said or written in the nineteenth century by an alleged primary source doesn’t necessarily make it true. Case in point: “McClellan was slow” certainly qualifies as a statement, consensus, or assumption. It was said a number of times by no less a primary source than Abraham Lincoln. As I have shown with primary accounts from numerous participants marching thru the Maryland countryside in 1862 there were units ranging from regiments to divisions marching at rates that are anything but slow. Individual regiments, brigades, and divisions moving 10 to 19 miles in a day. These are rates of march any competent military commander would hardly judge as slow. The truth is, as far as I have been able to tell, McClellan is accepted as being slow in the Maryland Campaign simply because President Lincoln said he was slow. I remember Joe Harsh making a very convincing argument that Lincoln had a bad case of the Fasts. Unionist historians simply parrot Lincoln’s alleged fact without realizing it is a value judgment from an impatient politician, not an actual campaign participant. However, going against a primary source such as Lincoln requires indisputable facts from numerous primary sources, not counter statements, consensus, or assumptions. Having the primary sources is only half of the writing process. It also requires that you present it to the reader in a manner they find interesting. You want them to have the desire to turn the next page. I think my background studying literature in my youth helped me with that.

My wife would tell you that I’m never done.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

SRS: Generally, the book has been received very well. Even though it was not released until August 2019, it became one of the top five bestselling books at the Antietam Bookstore. Obviously, the staff as well as my fellow volunteers and guides at Antietam are overjoyed at having a reputable book to suggest to visitors that counters decades of misrepresentation of Gen. McClellan. Some of the rangers have revised their presentations to incorporate new information from my book. Many visitors bring with them the three pillars of the Bad General stereotype and my fellow guides are happy to have something they can suggest countering that narrative. It has been my experience as a tour guide that there are many facets of the campaign and battles (South Mountain and Antietam) presented in the book visitors are not aware of and find interesting. I have had people tell me that have gone back to read the book two and three times.

However, going against the grain of long accepted historical consensus is not easy. There does exist a hard-core group of anti-McClellan bashers in the Civil War community and nothing you can say or do will disabuse them of the notion that the Young Napoleon was the Bad General. As an Antietam Volunteer and Tour Guide I have years of experience tactfully and sympathetically dealing with these folks; after all, I once believed it myself. I now have a book I can specifically suggest that counters their opinions. I generally know I’m succeeding with the critics when they are forced to bring up the subject of the Peninsula or McClellan’s arrogance (his alleged snub of Lincoln). My response usually is that my book is about the Maryland Campaign, not the Peninsula. It is a different animal (although there is a lot of criticism about that campaign that is also popular consensus). As far as being arrogant, I simply counter that by asking visitors if they have ever met a general? Even the most ardent of McClellan critics comment on the extensive research and documentation in my book. The McClellan bashers are fond of dismissing me as a McClellan apologist. I know that technically it simply means one who argues in defense or justification, but in the popular culture it has a negative connotation. I am not apologizing for anything. McClellan was a human being and he had his faults just like the rest of us. However, he was not a bad general. In my opinion, he was a bad politician. His biggest mistake may have been running against Lincoln for President. I cannot help but think he would have been remembered more favorably if he had not.

A few weeks ago, I was involved in a back and forth on Facebook regarding the merits of Stephen W. Sears’s Landscape Turned Red which certainly is on the other side of the spectrum from Too Useful To Sacrifice. Somebody responded that he thought the truth about McClellan was somewhere between Sears and Stotelmyer. I thought to myself, Wow, if I have managed to move the needle halfway in the popular image of George B. McClellan then I feel like I have accomplished something special.

BR: In the editorial process something always ends up on the cutting room floor so to speak. Was there anything in your manuscript that you regret being cut from the published book?

SRS: Yes, I had several appendices that were cut. The one I regret the most that never made it to print was titled Little Mac at the Front. In the popular imagination there is this image of McClellan never leading from the front and spending the whole day of the battle of Antietam leisurely smoking cigars at the Pry House. With primary sources this appendix proved that image false. McClellan came under enemy artillery fire at a forward observation post on September 15. The same on the 16th while conducting reconnaissance at the Lower Bridge. Also, during the late afternoon and evening of the 16th several primary sources from soldiers in the Pennsylvania Reserves put him near the East Woods and the Joseph Poffenberger farm. One account has McClellan directing counter-battery artillery fire. On September 17 there are several primary accounts proving a morning visit to the East Woods in addition to the well-documented afternoon visit. During the afternoon visit he again directs counter-battery fire from an exposed position near the Cornfield. He revisits the forward observation area and is also seen with the long-range artillery on the high ground astride the Middle Bridge. The most remarkable primary account I found was a letter written by an Ohio soldier a few days after the battle of Antietam. Private Alexander Wight of the 23rd Ohio wrote his brother that he saw and interacted with McClellan on the southern part of the field somewhere in the area of the Final Attack. Wight was a member of the regimental band on duty as a medic helping a wounded soldier of the 23rd to the rear when he turned around and saw both McClellan and Burnside. Little Mac asked Wight if the wounded soldier could ride and offered his mount. Later that evening Wight observed McClellan at a field hospital talking to the wounded like a father and shaking their hands. Evidently Wight and his brother were critical of McClellan before the Maryland Campaign because he ends the letter, “I don’t know what your opinion is about George McClellan, but I have changed my opinion.” It is a primary account, a letter from one brother to another not meant for the public. I (and several of my fellow guides) have no reason to doubt it. It places McClellan on the southern part of the Antietam Battlefield on September 17 and that has never been presented in any other book on the battle that I have ever read. I am hoping I can get the essay published as a magazine article.

BR: What’s next for you?

SRS: I’m torn between doing a companion piece on Lee and something on South Mountain. The Confederates made mistakes in Maryland, some of which doomed the campaign from the start. Part of the campaign was supposed to be about recruiting in Maryland, but there is no Confederate Maryland infantry regiment to attract Marylanders. Confederate signalmen occupied Sugar Loaf Mountain at a time when McClellan’s army was marching thru the Maryland countryside. The large clouds of dust raised from that advancing army should have been visible to even a casual observer at Sugar Loaf. Somehow that information never seems to have made it to Lee and he completely misjudges McClellan’s rapid advance. The Confederate reception in Frederick was not as cold-shouldered as traditionally portrayed. I have always been curious how Lee’s injuries may have affected his judgement. Given the staying power of the Lee Tradition that may be even more of an uphill battle than accurately portraying McClellan. Then again, I’m considering going back to my first love: Fox’s Gap. Most people are not aware that proportionately, square foot per square foot, the Sunken Road that runs thru Fox’s Gap was bloodier that it’s famous counterpart at Antietam. I feel confident that I could write a comprehensive history of what occurred in and around Wise’s cabin from dawn to dusk during that bloody sabbath. It would give me another chance to exonerate Daniel Wise from throwing those bodies in his well. Daniel’s story is personal to me. By some strange mysterious metaphysical design I won’t try to explain, my great nephew is Daniel’s fifth great grandson.

However, to be honest, I am enjoying the down time. I am looking forward to the Spring and resuming my Volunteer and Tour Guide activities at Antietam. As we guides like to say to each other, “See you on the field.”

I highly recommend anybody interested in a fair treatment of McClellan by a Lincoln biographer check out a copy of James G. Randall, Lincoln The President: Springfield To Gettysburg, 2 vols., volume 2, chapters 18-20. And for how Lee becomes an American iconic hero, Thomas L. Connelly, The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society.

There is a formatting error on page 85 of Too Useful To Sacrifice which resulted in a few lines of missing text. This web page that corrects the mistake and provides the missing text.





Previews – Three New(er) Savas Beatie Titles

12 12 2019

Here we go: a post! I have a stack of books here, some requiring a preview, and some requiring interviews. My apologies for the delay. So, without further ado, three recent releases from Savas Beatie.

914351794_480x480“Lee is Trapped and Must be Taken:” Eleven Fateful Days after Gettysburg, July 4-14, 1863, by Thomas J. Ryan and Richard R. Schaus. In this sequel to his Spies, Scouts, and Secrets of the Gettysburg Campaign, author Ryan is joined by Schaus, a fellow former government intelligence employee. From the promotional materials:

This comprehensive day-by-day account examines how Maj. Gen. George G. Meade organized and motivated his Army of the Potomac in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s mandate to bring about the “literal or substantial destruction” of General Robert E. Lee’s defeated and retreating Army of Northern Virginia.

You get:

  • 301 pages of narrative in 11 daily chapters, aftermath, and assessments
  • An appendix on Meade and the Bureau of Military Intelligence (BMI)
  • An appendix of BMI reports
  • An appendix on Lincoln’s famous, unsent letter of frustration to Meade
  • 17 page bibliography, including  numerous newspapers accounts
  • Full Index
  • Bottom of the page footnotes
  • 14 Hal Jesperson maps

———-

0johnsonvilleJohnsonville: Union Supply Operations on the Tennessee River and the Battle of Johnsonville, November 4-5, 1864, by Jeffery T. Wooten. Wooten is currently the Park Manager for Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park in Nashville, TN, and has worked at various Tennessee stat parks and Pamplin Historical Park. From the promotional materials:

[Wooten’s book] sheds light on the creation and strategic role of the Union supply depot, the use of railroads and logistics, and the depot’s defense. [It] covers the emergence of a civilian town around the depot…[and] includes the best and most detailed account of the Battle of Johnsonville…The complex land-water operation nearly wiped out the Johnsonville supply depot, severely disrupted Gen. George Thomas’s army in Nashville, and impeded his operations against John Bell Hood’s Confederate army.

You get:

  • 179 pages of narrative in 9 chapters and aftermath
  • One appendix on the “U. S. Quartermaster’s Department in Tennessee
  • 11 page bibliography, including numerous newspapers and unpublished manuscript sources
  • Full index
  • Bottom of page footnotes
  • 9 maps

———-

0hornpeteThe Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War: A History of the 12 Virginia Infantry form John Brown’s Hanging to Appomattox, 1859-1865, by John Horn. Mr. Horn is the author of The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad. From the promotional materials:

Horn’s definitive history is grounded in decades of archival research that uncovered scores of previously unused accounts. The result is a lively, driving, up-tempo regimental history that not only describes the unit’s marches and battles, but includes personal glimpses into the lives of the Virginians who made up the 12th regiment.

You get:

  • 406 pages of narrative in 22 chapters and epilogue.
  • 20 page bibliography
  • Full index
  • Bottom of page footnotes
  • 32 (!) maps

 

 





Previews: More from Savas Beatie

30 07 2019

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The good folks at Savas Beatie, prolific publishers of our peculiar predilection, have been busy this year. Over the past couple of months, they’ve cranked out a number of new books, and I think I’ve received most of them. Due to time restraints, I’ve provided titles, authors, and links for info and ordering.

 

 





Previews: Emerging Civil War

27 07 2019

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I apologize for the brevity of this, but I’m digging myself out of a hole and this seems to be the only practical way out. Over the past few months I’ve received five new entries in the Emerging Civil War series from Savas Beatie. Luckily, the titles are all self explanatory, so I’ll give you those, the authors, and links to ordering and other info. Not perfect, but my world is far from that.

“Let Us Die Like Men”: The Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864, by William Lee White.

“All Hell Can’t Stop Them”: The Battles for Chattanooga: Missionary Ridge and Ringgold, November 24-27, 1863, by David A. Powell.

“Attack at Daylight and Whip Them”: The Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862, by Gregory A. Mertz.

“The Most Desperate Acts of Gallantry”: George A. Custer in the Civil War, by Daniel T. Davis.

“Call Out the Cadets”: The Battle of New Market, May 15, 1864, by Sarah Kay Bierle

 





Preview – Mackowski, “The Great Battle Never Fought”

24 01 2019

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New from Savas Beatie and the Emerging Civil War series is The Great Battle Never Fought: The Mine Run Campaign, November 26 – December 2, 1863, by Chris Mackowski. You get:

123 pages of narrative, in thirteen chapters plus epilogue.

  • An Afterword by Ted Savas, featuring how he located the Payne’s Farm battlefield site.
  • A ten stop driving tour with GPS coordinates.
  • Appendix A, Rest, Soldier, Rest, by Mike Block, on the Army of the Potomac’s hospitals during the winter encampment of 1863-1864.
  • Appendix B, I Suppose the Result Will Be a Pretty General Sweeping Out, by Ryan T. Quint, on the reorganization of the Army of the Potomac in the wake of the aborted Mine Run Campaign.
  • Orders of Battle.
  • Suggested Reading.
  • Eight Hal Jesperson Maps.
  • Profusely illustrated with vintage and modern-day photos.
  • No footnotes, no bibliography, no index.

Chris Mackowski is the editor-in-chief of Emerging Civil War. See his author page here.





Preview – Wittenberg, “Holding the Line on the River of Death”

20 01 2019

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Author Eric Wittenberg dips his toe into Civil War western waters with Holding the Line on the River of Death: Union Mounted Forces at Chickamauga, September 18, 1863 (Savas Beatie, $29.95).

This volume focuses on the two important delaying actions conducted by mounted Union soldiers at Reed’s and Alexander’s bridges on the first day of Chickamauga. A cavalry brigade under Col. Robert H. G. Minty and Col. John T. Wilder’s legendary “Lightning Brigade” of mounted infantry made stout stands at a pair of chokepoints crossing Chickamauga Creek. Minty’s small cavalry brigade held off nearly ten times its number on September 18 by designing and implementing a textbook example of a delaying action. Their dramatic and outstanding efforts threw Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg’s entire battle plan off its timetable by delaying his army’s advance for an entire day. That delay cost Bragg’s army the initiative at Chickamauga. 

You get:

  • 208 pp of narrative
  • Appendices – Orders of Battle
  • Appendix – Vidette and Outpost Duty Defined
  • Illustrated driving tour with 54 GPS benchmarks
  • Bibliography with quite a few manuscript and archive sources
  • Index
  • Bottom-of-page footnotes
  • 17 Mark Moore maps
  • 66 Illustrations

Eric Wittenberg has written multiple books on the American Civil War, with an emphasis on cavalry actions. Visit his Amazon Author Page for more.





Preview – McIlwain, “The Million Dollar Man Who Helped Kill a President”

21 11 2018

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New from Savas Beatie is Christopher Lyle McIlwain, Sr.’s The Million Dollar Man Who Helped Kill a President: George Washington Gayle and the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

This story, the promotional materials claim, will set you straight on the real mastermind behind the assassination of the 16th POTUS (Gayle, an Alabama lawyer), and the motivation of the assassins ($$$).

You get:

  • 140 pages of text, in ten chapters.
  • 11 photos & engravings.
  • In a break with Savas Beatie SOP, end-notes (70 pp, indexed by chapter, not page – not my preferred format).
  • 64 page bibliography (primarily published sources).
  • Two-page index (for those of you scoring at home, that’s 136 pages of notes, bibliography, and index, and 140 pages of narrative).

Christopher Lyle McIlwain, Sr. is a lawyer in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of two books on Alabama in the Civil War. See his author page here.





Preview – Smith, “The Real Horse Soldiers”

20 11 2018


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New from Savas Beatie is Timothy B. Smith’s The Real Horse Soldiers: Benjamin Grierson’s Epic 1863 Civil War Raid Through Mississippi. Most of us are familiar with this courtesy of John Wayne and William Holden. But as the title says, this is the fact behind the 1959 film (though not directly related to the film – for that, see Neil Longley York’s Fiction as Fact: The Horse Soldiers and Popular Memory.

You get:

  • 315 pages of narrative in preface, prologue, 11 chapters, and epilogue.
  • Bottom of page footnotes.
  • Bibliography with 5 1/2 pages of manuscript and newspaper sources.
  • Full index
  • 13 maps
  • 36 photographs

Dr. Timothy B. Smith is a former National Park Service employee and now teaches history at the University of Tennessee at Martin. He is the author of numerous and award winning books – see his author page here.





Preview – Pula, “Under the Crescent Moon” Vol. 2

5 11 2018


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James Pula’s Under the Crescent Moon with the XI Corps in the Civil War Volume 2 From Gettysburg to Victory, 1863 – 1865, picks up after the Battle of Chancellorsville, where Volume 1 left off. You get:

  • 323 pages if narrative in 21 chapters. Note that 299 pages of the narrative take us to the relief of Knoxville in December 1863, after which the 11th and 12th corps, after which the 11th (that’s right, they didn’t use Roman numerals for corps designation back in the day) and 12th corps were consolidated into the new 20th corps.
  • Addendums for 11th Corps numbers and losses at Gettysburg.
  • Addendum with 11th Corps order of battle for Chattanooga.
  • Addendum listing 11th Corps Medal of Honor Awardees.
  • Bottom of page footnotes.
  • Bibliography (numerous archival sources were consulted).
  • Full index
  • Five maps – an improvement over Volume 1, but I need more.

 





Preview – Rasbach, “I Am Perhaps Dying”

8 10 2018

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I Am Perhaps Dying: The Medical History of Spinal Tuberculosis Hidden in the Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, by Dennis Rasbach, MD, FACS, is a companion to Jan Croon’s The War Outside My Window, also from Savas Beatie. As the subtitle states, this is the back story of Gresham’s likely ailments, described but not diagnosed in the pages of his diary. This is a profusely illustrated work of 109 pp, plus a bibliography and index.  Footnotes are bottom-of-page.

The bulk of the text is Chapter 12 (55 pp.), which uses dozens of diary entries which, “together with medical commentary, can be understood in context with how LeRoy was experiencing his disease and injury.”

The other eleven chapters are broken down into historical diagnoses and the history of spinal tuberculosis and LeRoy’s treatment and suffering.

Dennis Rasbach is the author of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Petersburg Campaign, and a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.