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Book Reviews

These are some reviews from a recent issue of The Civil War News:


High-Water Mark: The 1862 Maryland Campaign in Strategic Perspective

by Timothy J. Reese.

Illustrated, maps, bibliography, index, softcover, 64 pp., 2004. Butternut and Blue, 3411 Northwind Rd., Baltimore, MD, 21234, $14.95 plus shipping.

William B. Franklin is one of those rare Union generals who actually was handed a golden opportunity to defeat Robert E. Lee. Unfortunately, when his big chance came he let it slip through his fingers. In this regard, he was very much like his peers — the many other generals of the Army of the Potomac.

This 64-page booklet about the Maryland Campaign of 1862 centers on the battle of Crampton’s Gap. I am not sure exactly how to describe the author’s work. It is a cross between and essay and a “reflection” on where the battle fits into the campaign. His conclusion is that the battle is more important than most people realize.

Traditionally, Crampton’s Gap had been viewed as a minor engagement leading up to the major battle, Antietam. Author Reese revises this viewpoint in the way that Copernicus overthrew Ptolemy’s perception of the universe. In the past, Antietam was the sun and the minor planet, Crampton’s Gap, revolved around it. Reese’s revisionist idea is that Crampton’s Gap is the sun and that Antietam is a satellite (although admittedly a large one) that revolves around the central star.

To develop this idea, Reese does not offer new sources. Instead, he depends on information that has been available for decades or, in some cases, a century or more. What is new is the analysis and interpretation of these widely known facts.

Reese is particularly good in his assessment of the military threat posed by Great Britain in its 1862 buildup in Canada. Although Great Britain dispatched only 18,000 troops, Reese points out that these were trained veterans that, if used in conjunction with Confederate troops, would have created significant military headaches for the North.

Reese argues that the 1862 Maryland Campaign — specifically Crampton’s Gap — represents the true “high-water mark” of the Confederacy. Gettysburg was only a hollow echo of the critical 1862 Maryland Campaign — and only marginally more important than Jubal Early’s 1864 invasion of Maryland and the District of Columbia.

The author bolsters his case for the central importance of the 1862 campaign by noting the ways that Lee modified the 1863 invasion to deliberately avoid the pitfalls of the previous year’s efforts. Lee viewed the Antietam Campaign as the strategic benchmark to measure all future Southern offensives.

While this essay is thoughtful and provocative, this reviewer found it a little ungainly. It would have benefited from some editing to reduce the number of repetitions. Also, the author has a tendency to wander off on tangents.

It is fascinating to learn, for example, that Lee’s famous Lost Order was not found at the Best Farm in Frederick County, as widely supposed. It is true that it was written at the Best Farm but most likely it was lost by the Confederates (and found by Union troops) near the intersection of South and Franklin streets in the city of Frederick, not far from the present-day location of the Frederick fairgrounds. An interesting story, but too off-message to be given the space that is devoted to it in this short essay.

Walt Albro

Walt Albro is a magazine writer and editor who lives in Rockville, Md.

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