We are pleased this year to welcome Dr. Brian Matthew Jordan as the keynote speaker for our Fourth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge. Last April, the Pulitzer committee listed Brian’s fantastic book Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History. (Soon thereafter, ECW ran a three-part interview with Brian: check it out!)
Before Brian dove into the unending Civil War of Union veterans, he made a splash with his excellent study of the battle of South Mountain, Unholy Sabbath. As part of our focus this year on “Great Defenses of the Civil War,” Brian will talk about the famous stand of September 14, 1862: “‘Without A Parallel During the War’: The Confederate Defense of South Mountain.”
Here’s what Brian has to say about it:
Perched atop the spine of Maryland’s South Mountain on September 14, 1862, woefully outnumbered gray-clad soldiers sought to stem the tide of a federal offensive that, if successful, would defeat a divided Confederate army in detail and end Lee’s first invasion of the north. In three mountain passes, a battle almost unrivaled in its ferocity ensued; in a true signal of Confederate desperation and the war’s “punitive” turn, breathless southern troops battled over difficult terrain, at close-range and well after dark.
As it turned out, Union troops notched a tactical victory in each of the mountain passes, inflicting significant casualties. Federal musketry shredded regiments from North Carolina and Georgia. But many Confederates insisted that they were the true victors. In “holding McClellan’s army at bay,” one former rebel observed, the Confederates on South Mountain salvaged Lee’s campaign and set up the slugfest at Sharpsburg.
“In its consequences, in the accomplishment of predetermined objects, and in the skillful disposition of small numbers to oppose overwhelming odds,” Confederate staff officer Seaton Gales wrote, the battle of South Mountain “is without a parallel during the war.”
My keynote will reexamine the Confederate defense of South Mountain—and the veterans’ equally stubborn defense of their actions after the battle and after the war. Indeed, the “defense” of South Mountain takes on two important meanings here. I will argue that the battle is not merely a “prelude” to Antietam or a meaningless series of skirmishes, but rather a strategically significant engagement that not only changes the course of the Maryland Campaign, but provides an important window into the changing character of the war—and Civil War soldiering itself—in 1862.
Tickets for this year’s Symposium, Aug. 4-6, 2017, are available for $125 (order here). They include Friday night’s reception, speakers, keynote address, and historians’ roundtable; Saturday’s line-up of talks; coffee service and lunch on Saturday; and Sunday’s tour of the Brandy Station battlefield.