2023 Spring Symposium

April 22, 2023

Commanders, Civilians, and Casualties: New Research on the Maryland Campaign

For this year’s Symposium we were excited to welcome five dynamic speakers: Steven Cowie, Zachery Fry, Brian Matthew Jordan, Michael Lang, and Darin Wipperman.

Our symposium concluded with a panel comprised of our speakers which enabled further free-wheeling conversations on these issues and discussions with our audience.

There were ample opportunities for interactions with the speakers, scholars/experts, and other participants during the presentations, at lunch, and during the panel discussion. A continental breakfast and lunch were provided.

Registration closed 23 March 2023.

Symposium Itinerary

The Spring Symposium was held at Shepherd’s Spring Retreat Center on Saturday, April 22, 2023 with an optional Farmsteads hike on the Antietam National Battlefield on Friday afternoon, April 21.

Friday 21 April 2023

New this year was an optional battlefield walk the afternoon before the Symposium.

1:00p – 4:00p Farmsteads of Antietam

Join guides Chris Vincent and Steve Cowie for a look at the farms and farm families of 1862 Sharpsburg, Maryland.

Saturday 22 April 2023

The all-day Saturday Symposium event included presentations and a panel discussion. Here’s Saturday’s schedule:

8:30a – Registration at Shepherd’s Spring Retreat Center

9:00a – “The Critical Decisions of Henry W. Halleck” -Michael Lang

When studying the Maryland Campaign, it is often assumed that men like Robert E. Lee and George B. McClellan most determined the campaign’s direction – They were, after all, the commanders of the two opposing forces. Would it surprise you to know that the decisions made by Union general-in-chief Henry Halleck were just as impactful, if not more so? Michael Lang, the author of Decisions at Antietam and Decisions of the Maryland Campaign, will discuss how a man who never set foot on the field at Antietam made choices that helped determine when and where this battle was to be fought. Moreover, we will examine how the decisions made by Henry Halleck went a long way to define why the Maryland Campaign overall occurred the way we remember it. 

10:00a – “Three Difficult Evenings: Joe Hooker and the First Corps Between South Mountain and Antietam” – Darin Wipperman

Major General Joseph Hooker’s First Corps sustained more than 900 casualties near Turner’s Gap at South Mountain on September 14, 1862. The evening immediately following the attack began 60 hours of challenges prior to Hooker’s men starting the battle of Antietam at dawn on the 17th. How did the First Corps deal with the aftermath of South Mountain? What problems did Hooker’s three divisions face from their pursuit of the Confederates on the 15th to the crossing of Antietam Creek as they prepared for a major battle? What can be said of Hooker’s performance as a corps commander across these three difficult evenings? Centered on compelling human stories, this presentation will also discuss some captivating tactical and strategic questions. 

11:00a – “The Legacy of Antietam in the 1864 Election” – Dr. Zach Fry

Decisive victory or missed opportunity? McClellan the patriot or McClellan the villain? The image of Antietam and of George McClellan’s role there figured prominently in political dialogue during the 1864 presidential election. With the former Army of the Potomac commander in a new fight as the Democratic nominee against Abraham Lincoln, politicians, pundits, and voters alike rose either to attack or defend his record during the Maryland Campaign. This talk examines how the campaign season cemented many McClellan tropes in the public consciousness and contributed to America’s understanding of its bloodiest day.

12:00p – Lunch

1:00p – “What I Witnessed Would Make You Sick: Union Soldiers Confront the Dead at Antietam” – Dr. Brian Jordan

Drawing insights from histories of the environment, material culture, and emotions, this talk will explore how Union soldiers made sense of mass death in the days and weeks after the war’s bloodiest battle. How did Union soldiers grapple with the human consequences of the bloodletting at Antietam? How did they process all that Antietam did to human bodies? How did Antietam’s carnage shape or inform their evolving understanding of the war and their participation in it? This talk will argue that one of the most significant (and overlooked) facets of the 1862 Maryland Campaign was the mooring in place of the Army of the Potomac for weeks after the battle. Cast against the backdrop of enormous human and environmental destruction, this restless time invited reflection and reevaluation of the meaning of the war.

2:00p – “When Hell Came to Sharpsburg” – Steve Cowie

Steven Cowie’s When Hell Came to Sharpsburg investigates how the Battle of Antietam and its aftermath wreaked havoc on the civilians of Sharpsburg. For proper context, the author explores the savage struggle and its gory aftermath and explains how soldiers stripped the community of resources and spread diseases. Cowie meticulously follows fortunes of individual families—ordinary folk thrust into harrowing circumstances—and their struggle to recover from their unexpected and often devastating losses.

3:00p – Panel Discussion

4:00p – Wrap up session

4:30p – End of Day


Steven Cowie earned a degree from California State University, Long Beach. As part of the Los Angeles film industry, he penned spec screenplays and sold his award-winning short film to the Sundance Channel. A lifelong student of the Civil War, Cowie dedicated fifteen years to exclusively researching the Battle of Antietam. When Hell Came to Sharpsburg is his first book. 

Zachery Fry is associate professor of military history at the US Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Belvoir Campus. He received his PhD in history from Ohio State in 2017 and went on to teach as a visiting assistant professor at the United States Military Academy before arriving at CGSC. He is the author of A Republic in the Ranks: Loyalty and Dissent in the Army of the Potomac (UNC Press, 2020). Zack’s current project is a history of the 1864 election for the University Press of Kansas.

Brian Matthew Jordan is Associate Professor of Civil War History and Chairperson of the History Department at Sam Houston State University. He is the author or editor of six books on the Civil War era, including Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War, which was a finalist (one of three runners-up) for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in History.

Michael Lang has worked as a manager for FedEx Office for over 37 years while also becoming a successful photographer – Civil War battlefields are among his favorite subjects. After living in Colorado most of his life, Michael moved to Frisco, Texas, in 2017, where he lives with his wife, Rebecca. Michael has been a fan of all history since a young boy and has been a student of the American Civil War for almost as long. With two published works on the Civil War already complete, Michael is currently working on his third manuscript, Decisions of the Red River Campaign.

Christopher Vincent is a retired US Army veteran and holds a master’s degree in Military History from the American Military University. Chris is the president of the Antietam Institute, chair of the Washington County Antietam Battlefield Advisory Board, and serves as Chief of the Antietam Battlefield Guides. Chris’ great-great-grandfather served during the Maryland Campaign with the 132nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment. His research is primarily focused on the farmsteads of Antietam and the impact the campaign had on the civilians of Sharpsburg which he blogs about on the Jacob Rohrbach Inn website.

Darin Wipperman has completed two infantry corps histories, both from Stackpole Books. Burnside’s Boys: The Union’s Ninth Corps and The Civil War in the East, slated for release in April 2023. First for the Union: Life and Death in a Civil War Army Corps from Antietam to Gettysburg, was a 2020 title. A native of Iowa, Darin received degrees in political science from the University of Northern Iowa, then worked for the U.S. government for nearly 17 years. He and his wife moved to northern New Hampshire in 2012, where Darin worked as a reporter and editor for weekly newspapers. He is researching his third Civil War book, currently entitled Thunderbolt to the Rebels: The United States Sharpshooters in the Civil War. In addition to being a Civil War geek, Darin manages the forested parcel he and his wife live on in Lancaster, NH.