We are pleased to announce that the Institute’s member incentive publication for 2023 is From Frederick to Sharpsburg: People, Places, and Events of the Maryland Campaign Before Antietam, by Steven R. Stotelmyer. Steve is a distinguished author of the Maryland Campaign. He is a native of Hagerstown, Maryland, served in the U.S. Navy and holds a master’s degree from Hood College. Steve helped form the Central Maryland Heritage League in 1989 which was successful in preserving part of the South Mountain Battlefield. He is the author of The Bivouacs of the Dead: The Story of Those Who Died at Antietam and South Mountain, and most recently Too Useful To Sacrifice: Reconsidering George B. McClellan’s Generalship in the Maryland Campaign from South Mountain to Antietam.
Here is a sneak peak at some of the essays in From Frederick to Sharpsburg.
The Battle of Antietam stands out as the single bloodiest day’s combat in American history. More people were killed or injured on September 17, 1862, than any other day in our nation’s entire history. With 23,000 casualties it is understandable that this single event tends to take the spotlight in the Maryland Campaign of 1862. However, Robert E. Lee did not begin crossing the Potomac on September 4. 1862, just so he could fight at Sharpsburg 13 days later with his back to that same river. From Frederick to Sharpsburg sheds light on some of the other participants and events long obscured in the shadow cast by America’s bloodiest day.
The seminal event of the Maryland Campaign of 1862 was the Confederate occupation of Frederick, Maryland. Between September 6 and September 11 Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia occupied the town. In the popular histories of the event the people of Maryland are portrayed as turning a cold shoulder towards the Confederates and their cause. Using primary accounts, Stotelmyer provides an exploration of the Confederate reception in Frederick in the early days of the Maryland Campaign and concludes it was not as unfriendly as traditionally portrayed.
Barbara Fritchie was a real person living in Frederick during the Maryland Campaign. She was made famous by a poem published in 1863 by John Greenleaf Whittier. Because she passed away shortly after the Maryland Campaign, Barbara never knew any of the fame generated by Whittier’s pen. As the story goes the 96-year-old Barbara defiantly waved an American flag in the face of General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. In truth however, A Quaker poet who likely never saw the city or old lady, and a Confederate general who never saw either, poet or lady, made as fine an advertising project as any city could desire.
Sugar Loaf Mountain, located near the southern border of Montgomery and Frederick Counties, absolutely dominates the surrounding Maryland countryside. During the Maryland Campaign, from September 6 through September 11, Confederate Signalmen occupied the mountain top. On September 9 Robert E. Lee issued the orders dividing his army for the Harpers Ferry operation under the belief that his enemy was still concentrated at Rockville, 25 miles southeast of Frederick. Obviously, Lee believed he had ample time for the Harpers Ferry operation. A simple observation from Sugar Loaf should have shown otherwise. From Frederick to Sharpsburg explores the conditions and circumstances surrounding this apparent intelligence failure on the part of the Confederates atop Sugar Loaf Mountain.
Major General Jesse Lee Reno was a promising 39-year-old Union career officer who perished before his time on the slopes of South Mountain at day’s end on September 14, 1862. Although most histories of the Maryland Campaign treat General Reno’s death as an isolated event, his absence at Antietam three days later may have cost General McClellan the decisive victory he so earnestly sought to achieve. Nonetheless, the nature of Reno’s death is not without its share of controversy. Almost from the time of his death, there has been speculation and controversy as to whose bullet, Union, or Confederate brought an end to the promising military career of Jesse Lee Reno. Stotelmyer not only explores the circumstances and the various claims surrounding Reno’s death, but also the apparent dysfunction in the Ninth Corps high command which resulted from the premature loss of this capable commander.
They were thrown into a well instead of receiving a proper burial on September 15, 1862. They were dead Confederate soldiers, and as the legend goes, they were thrown into an abandoned well by a crafty old codger named Daniel Wise who had contracted with none other than Major General Ambrose Burnside to bury the rebels for a dollar a body. The story of Wise’s Well has become cemented as fact in the history of the Maryland Campaign, and unfortunately, much of it is myth. While it is true that the well became a mass grave for 58 dead Confederate soldiers, Daniel Wise never had the opportunity to correct the historical record as to how they were placed in such an unusual sepulcher. The civilians of South Mountain were affected by that battle just as much, if not more so, as their fellow citizens at Sharpsburg. From Frederick to Sharpsburg explores the facts behind this long-accepted legend and not only clears the name of Daniel Wise, but sheds light on the real human drama at Fox’s Gap after the Battle of South Mountain.
There is an overlooked aspect of Confederate operations in Maryland during September of 1862 that often remains unmentioned in popular history. General Robert E. Lee, one of the most iconic figures of the Civil War, suffered a debilitating physical injury just prior to his entry into Maryland. If Lee’s injuries are mentioned at all in the popular histories of the campaign, they are usually given short shrift. One of the results of this perfunctory treatment is that the popular image of the bold audacious Confederate general remains largely intact, while the actual picture of an aging disabled invalid, unable to take care of himself, mostly remains overlooked. Using primary sources Stotelmyer explores the circumstances of Lee’s injuries and how his condition may have affected decisions and controversial actions during the campaign.
Several appendices describe forgotten combat and casualties from Sugar Loaf to Patrick Street to Hagan’s Gap to Quebec School House. From Frederick to Sharpsburg: People, Places, and Events of the Maryland Campaign Before Antietam, will make a welcomed addition to the library of any student of Antietam, the Maryland Campaign, or the Civil War.