Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Book Review: The Cornfield, Antietam's Bloody Turning Point, by David A. Welker

Alongside Spotsylvania’s Bloody Angle and Shiloh’s Hornet’s Nest, the fighting in David Miller’s Cornfield on the Antietam battlefield ranks as one of the toughest Civil War landscapes to make any sense of. It should then come as no surprise that it has taken over 150 years since the Battle of Antietam for a micro tactical work detailing the Miller’s Cornfield fighting to be published.
David Welker’s The Cornfield seeks to make sense of the back-and-forth actions that swept across the Miller farm on September 17, 1862, and stake its importance in shaping the outcome of the Battle of Antietam. The book briefly recounts the events of the Maryland Campaign leading up to the Battle of Antietam before giving the Cornfield action of September 16 and 17, 1862 a detailed tactical treatment. Despite the depth of the fighting which the book delves into, Welker brings the intense combat and tragedy of the Cornfield to a personal level by interspersing the text with various human interest stories.
Aside from utilizing the usual suspect of sources to craft his tactical narrative, such as the Official Records, Welker made good use of Joseph Hooker’s military papers and some of the thousands of letters that veterans wrote to Antietam’s “Historical Expert” Ezra Carman and the Antietam Battlefield Board.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

What did Antietam's Cornfield Look Like in September 1862?

     "How tall was the corn?" Many a visitor to Antietam National Battlefield asks this question when standing on the southern edge of the 24-acre Miller Cornfield. That simple question is typically followed up by a similar one: "Did the corn look the same as it does today?" The answers to these questions are never a one-word answer. Men of different heights viewed the corn's height differently. And today, we plant corn differently than farmers did in the nineteenth century.
     Alexander Gardner's photographic capture of the battlefield as it looked in September 1862 would be a useful tool to answer the above questions. Unfortunately, Gardner never photographed the Miller Cornfield, despite taking multiple pictures immediately around it. However, there are enough drawings and veteran sketches that we can reconstruct what the Miller Cornfield may have looked in September 1862.
     The two earliest depictions of any cornfield at Antietam come from Alexander Gardner and Alfred Waud. The Piper Cornfield is shown in the background of a photograph showing dead Confederate soldiers lying in the Bloody Lane...
and the Miller Cornfield can barely be seen (the dark line below the tops of the trees) in the background of Gardner's photograph of Knap's Pennsylvania Battery.

Friday, February 14, 2020

"Foolishing Brave": Lt. Col. William Holmes and the Defense of the Burnside Bridge

     As the sun was setting on the hills around Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 15, 1862, the roughly 400 men of the 2nd and 20th Georgia Infantry regiments took position on an imposing bluff approximately 50 feet above the Burnside Bridge. Immediately, the Georgians prepared their defensive positions, felling trees and piling fence rails to create a hasty breastwork. The 20th Georgia defended the western opening of the bridge itself and positions north of it. Lieutenant Colonel William R. Holmes' 2nd Georgia stretched the line south of the bridge along Antietam Creek.
     September 17, 1862, is the most documented day of William Holmes' forty-plus year life. The native Georgian was born in 1821 (his birthday is not known). In Burke County, he became a prominent physician before leading Co. D of the 2nd Georgia off to war in 1861. The men of the 2nd greatly respected Holmes and he received a promotion to be the regiment's lieutenant colonel in April 1862.(1) On August 30 at the Battle of Second Manassas, Holmes' leadership inspired his men and filled them with confidence in him.(2)
William Holmes' attempted to repel this Federal charge across Burnside Bridge with an attack of his own