Friday, August 2, 2013

Savas Beatie Author Conclave: South Mountain and Antietam

This past Tuesday I had the pleasure of attending a portion of the Author Conclave sponsored by Savas Beatie. For those of you who don't already know, Savas Beatie is a publishing company specializing in history and has released some widely acclaimed Civil War books, including battle atlases and biographical studies. Savas Beatie recently offered three days of author-led tours at Gettysburg, South Mountain, Antietam, and Ball's Bluff. Part of the idea was to get authors and readers together on the very ground where fighting occurred. Savas Beatie was gracious enough to offer the tours free of charge.

Given my hectic schedule, I could only attend a couple of the events, so I decided to go to Tom Clemens' tours of South Mountain and Antietam. Tom, a foremost expert on the Antietam Campaign, is the masterful editor of Volumes I and II of Ezra Carman's The Maryland Campaign of September 1862. A few factors influenced my choice. I am a bit of an Antietam Campaign buff and had never visited South Mountain. Plus an opportunity to hear Tom in action was too good to pass up. Needless to say, I was not disappointed.

The group met in the parking lot of the Old South Mountain Inn at Turner's Gap. Around thirty people showed up for the event. In fact, my friend and I actually had to circle the lot to find a parking spot! The weather was perfect -- cool, sunny, and no humidity. Tom first led the group to some high ground along the Old National Pike and explained the fighting at Turner's Gap. We also had a chance to take in some simply stunning scenery.

The Old South Mountain Inn dates to the 18th century. Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, and other dignitaries stayed here. During the Battle of South Mountain, the building served as Confederate Gen. D.H. Hill's headquarters.

View from the side of the mountain at Turner's Gap. The battle raged farther down the mountain from here.

Tom entertains the crowd with the tale of how the Iron Brigade allegedly got its name in the fighting at Turner's Gap. He is a bit skeptical of the historical evidence on the issue. The post-war Dahlgren Chapel is in the background.

Another highlight of the tour was the walk along the Appalachian Trail to Fox's Gap, the scene of some intense combat between the Federal Ninth Corps and assorted Confederate commands. The trail in this part follows the old Wood Road that was used during the battle. The path, which we accessed off the inn's parking lot, climbed steeply until we emerged into an open field at the site of the Wise Farm. Tom once again gave an in-depth talk on the fighting. We also had a chance to visit the monuments dedicated to Gen. Jesse Reno (USA) and Gen. Samuel Garland (CSA), who were both mortally wounded here, as well as the North Carolina Monument.

The group hikes up the Appalachian Trail to Fox's Gap.

View across the Old Sharpsburg Road (today's Reno Monument Road) to the Jesse Reno Monument in Wise's South Field. Reno fell mortally wounded in this vicinity while leading the Ninth Corps in the fighting at Fox's Gap.
The North Carolina Monument at Fox's Gap, dedicated to the North Carolina troops who fought at or near here on September 14, 1862.
Most of the group returned to the inn by way of the trail. We had a tight schedule and little time left for lunch, so my friend and I grabbed a quick sandwich at the Battleview Market before re-joining the crowd at Antietam National Battlefield.

Tom's focus at Antietam was the lesser-known fighting in the West Woods and around Dunker Church. He aimed to challenge the popular interpretation of a three-phase battle. Many sources break Antietam into geographically distinct morning, midday, and afternoon phases. Instead, fighting occurred simultaneously at various spots, including the West Woods. Tom also took the opportunity to dispute some of the other conventional wisdom about Antietam. Among other things, he defended Gen. Edwin Sumner, who is often blamed for recklessly sending Gen. John Sedgwick's Division to slaughter in the West Woods. Tom challenged us to think and left me wanting to dig a more deeply into his interpretation of events. I wouldn't expect any less from a Savas Beatie author!

The group walked through the West Woods. The tour hit the highlights of Sedgwick's advance and the Confederate counterattack. Tom then took us to a less visited area west of the Dunker Church to see where the 125th Pennsylvania made a desperate stand as Confederates of Lafayette McLaws' division entered the fray. Troops under Gen. George Sears Greene also penetrated the Confederate lines in this part of the field. Tom described how Greene was eventually driven from his salient beyond Dunker Church. During the whole tour, our trusty guide supplemented his narrative of the fighting with ample quotes from the participants.

The group hikes into the West Woods. Tom explained that at the time of the battle in 1862, this area was a woodlot and free of underbrush, unlike today. 

15th Massachusetts Volunteers Monument in the West Woods. The regiment, part of Gen. Willis Gorman's Brigade, Sedgwick's Division, Second Corps, suffered losses of  57% here. (See Antietam on the Web.)

The reverse side of the 15th Massachusetts Monument lists the names of soldiers from the regiment who were killed and mortally wounded at Antietam. Unfortunately, a modern-day bypass bisects the battlefield just down the slope from the monument.

125th Pennsylvania  Volunteer Infantry Monument. The regiment was part of Gen. Samuel Crawford's Brigade, Alpheus Williams' Division, Twelfth Corps. A statue of George A. Simpson, a color sergeant killed at Antietam, sits atop the monument.
Once the tour had ended, I made the requisite stop at the bookstore and picked up a few items. Tom was also nice enough to sign my own copy of his books that I had brought with me from home.  I then bid farewell to the group and  headed out with my friend to see some of the key sites on the battlefield. He had never visited Antietam, so I really wanted to show him what is so captivating about this place. We were pressed for time, but managed to fit in the Cornfield, Bloody Lane, and Burnside Bridge.

The only downside of the day had nothing to do with the SB tour at all. I attempted at various times to live Tweet the days' events, but reception was poor and made the use of Twitter difficult. Moreover, my iPhone battery drained a lot faster than I would have liked. I suppose I learned that technology and battlefield stomping do not always work perfectly well together.

In the end, one of the best parts of the tours was interacting with authors and fellow Civil War enthusiasts, including some of my blog readers. I enjoyed meeting Ted Savas, SB's managing director, as well as Sarah Keeney, the company's marketing director. I had a chance to chat with James Morgan, Ball's Bluff expert and author of A Little Short of Boats; fellow blogger Rea Andrew Redd, who maintains Civil War Librarian; and historian George Deutsch, who is writing a book on the 83rd Pennsylvania. I also met Eugene Schmiel, who has penned a forthcoming biography on Gen. Jacob  Cox. Schmiel shared with the group some insights on Cox that he had gleaned from his research. (Cox led a division at South Mountain and commanded the Ninth Corps at Antietam.) Driving away from Sharpsburg, I knew that it had been a day well spent. Overall, I'd rate the Antietam and South Mountain tours a great success, and I look forward to future Author Conclaves.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for joining us, Ron, and for the kinds words. We enjoyed meeting you and are glad you had a nice time with us. See you on the battlefield next year.

Ron Baumgarten said...

My pleasure. Nice to meet you as well, and I certainly look forward to another event!