July travels: Mega-Antietam Seminar – Pt 1
Left Kansas City last Wednesday (25 July) bound for Hagerstown, Maryland, where Ted Alexander was putting on the seminar to end all seminars on Antietam. I have to confess that I was feeling a bit burnt when I took off from KCI, having gotten back only a little over a week earlier from a two-week trip with my daughter to Virginia to see family, do research, and lead a Chancellorsville staff ride (more on those in forthcoming posts). However, I quickly regained energy after arriving in Maryland, thanks to the excellent program Ted put together and the great people I got to interact with while in Hagerstown.
The first stop after my arrival on Wednesday was Keedysville, where I linked up with my good friend Dr. Tom Clemens (since he came out Grant on the test and I came out Sherman, I guess that makes sense) to go over the itinerary for the “Lee at Sharpsburg” bus tour Ted had scheduled for Tom and I to lead on Thursday. After a recon of the various stops we intended to take the tour participants to and discussing how we were going to sequence them and developing a good idea of what we wanted to talk at each one, Tom and I then split up, with him returning to home for dinner and my heading up to the hotel where the seminar was being held to check in and eat. That night, Ted had a dessert reception, with a preview of the seminar and talks by John Howard, Antietam park superintendent, and others.
The next morning, the buses left the hotel at 0545 (for my Central time body clock, 0445!!) for breakfast at Philadelphia Brigade Park before Tom and I gathered our first tour group. We then took them back to Keedysville and, after passing through the town, made stops alongside the Boonsboro Pike east of the Antietam and on Cemetery Hill to discuss Lee’s movements and actions of 15 September 1862. We transitioned to the events of the 16th at Cemetery Hill before proceeding to the Grove House in Sharpsburg. We began discussing the 17th at the Grove House before returning to Cemetery Hill and then drove along the Sunken Road and up Mondell Road to see the Reel Farm and discuss the Cox Farm expedition of the afternoon of September 17. The tour finally ended back at Lee’s HQ west of Sharpsburg with the council of war of the evening of September 17. After a hearty lunch we repeated this sequence with another group, although with a bit more celerity due to a cut in the time we had available and the unwillingness of the bus driver to test whether his bus could get over the railroad crossing on Mondell Road unscathed a second time. Both groups were terrific and asked a lot of good insightful questions and I ended the tour hoping that I had managed to not take too much time from Tom. I have said it before and will say it again, if you see a seminar advertised with Tom as a battlefield guide, sign up, for his presentation alone will be worth whatever the cost of the program might be.
Me and Tom at the National Cemetery
That evening, I was invited by Ted to participate in a panel discussing “Antietam Commanders: The Best and the Worst” with Ed Bearss (needless to say I was NOT the main attraction), Pat Falci, and John Michael Priest, with Scott Anderson moderating. This was preceded by a talk by Keven Walker on Early’s role in the fighting in the West Woods that confirmed the take on this matter that I have in the Antietam guide I am writing for Mark’s, Brooks’s, and Steve’s series at Nebraska, and offered some really fascinating information on the work the park staff was doing to rediscover the roads as they were in September 1862. In the panel discussion that followed, I opened by expressing concern that we be careful in assessing commanders at Antietam so that we don’t indulge too much in retrospective judgment at the expense of analysis and understanding before making my usual persuasive case for McClellan’s performance and offering praise to A.S. Williams for being able to get a handle on the Twelfth Corps after Mansfield’s wounding and D.R. Jones. Sumner did not come across so well, although one of the seminar participants, Dr. Vince Armstrong, has book coming out next year with the University of Alabama Press on the Second Corps during the Maryland Campaign that offers a new and different view of Sumner and his command in September 1862. The evening closed with Pat Falci giving his trademark presentation on A.P. Hill and an “insomniac’s session” with Ed Bearss on Antietam counterfactuals.