Review: Texans at Antietam

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Texans at Antietam-cover.jpgFewer stories of the Civil War are more renowned than that of the fight for Miller’s cornfield at Antietam. It’s one of those locations that has been forever endowed with capital letters because of the intensity of combat there: The Cornfield. And of that fight, General John Bell Hood’s Confederate brigade suffered a particularly awful fate. “The Texas Brigade is dead on the field,” a shaken Hood reportedly told Robert E. Lee.

Texans at Antietam: A Terrible Clash of Arms by Joe Owen, Philip McBride, and Joe Allport, allows the survivors of the Texas Brigade to tell the story of that “terrible clash” in their own words. 

Like its predecessor, Texans at Gettysburg: Blood and Glory with Hood’s Brigade, Texans at Antietam is a well-curated collection of primary source material from Hood’s Texas Brigade. Owen and his colleagues tap into official records, letters, and in particular, old newspaper accounts to share the stories of the veterans as the veterans themselves remembered them.

“There were never enough Texas infantry in General Robert E. Lee’s army of them to compromise [sic] a wholly Texan Brigade of four of five regiments,” the authors explain in their introduction. Therefore, the 18th Georgia and Hampton’s South Carolina Legion rounded out the brigade, which otherwise consisted of the 1st, 4th, and 5th Texas.

As the war went on, and attrition took its toll on the Texans, new recruits bolstered the dwindling ranks (contrast this against northern states like Pennsylvania and New York, which just kept adding new regiments so they could claim the honor of having the highest number of units). As result, the losses suffered by the Texans over time became even more dramatic, which the authors explore in detail in their introduction. The grim arithmetic is eye-opening.

A short prologue reveals “Uneasiness in Texas” because information about the battle of Antietam reached “the Lone Star State at a very slow rate.” The newspaper articles well-reflect the tension as Texans awaited news on their boys at the front. “The indefinite and meagre intelligence from the seat of war renders it exceedingly difficult to form anything like an accurate idea of the position of affairs,” one paper lamented.

Subsequent sections compile accounts from each of the brigade’s five regiments, including the Georgians and the South Carolinians. Some, like Capt. Watson Dugat Williams of the 5th Texas, writing to “My Dear Laura” on October 2, 1862, put their experiences into words just days after the battle. Others, like Capt. James D. Roberdeau of the same regiment, captured their thoughts for subsequent battle anniversaries, such as Roberdeau’s 1899 column in the Colorado Citizen.

The authors compile short biographies of most of the men to help readers better connect with them, and when possible, they include photographs.

Final sections include “Generals and Commanders Correspondence” and “Other Texans, A Louisianan, and a Few Yankees Who Fought at Antietam.” Ted Alexander, former historian at Antietam National Battlefield, wrote a foreword that hooked me from the first line. (Ted’s foreword was not mentioned on the cover, though, which seemed like a lost marketing opportunity.)

Produced by U.K. publisher Fonthill Media, the book follows some British rather than American style conventions—single quotation marks instead of double, commas outside quotation marks, etc.—which probably won’t bother most readers. For a company trying to strengthen its foothold on the American Civil War market, though, making such a subtle adjustment would demonstrate a better knowledge of its target audience. This small factor rests beyond the authors’ control.

Texans at Antietam would be an especially useful reference work for researchers writing about The Cornfield because account after account provides colorful lines, interesting anecdotes, and horrific stories. That same vividness makes Texans at Antietam interesting reading for any fan of the battle.

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