If one is familiar with a Savas Beatie publication, the reader understands a few prerequisites. The book will be well-researched and include historical analysis that enhances and expands ones knowledge base into another aspect of America’s military past. Author and historian M. Chris Bryan, in his debut book, continues this trend with his detailed study entitled, Cedar Mountain to Antietam, A Civil War Campaign History of the Union XII Corps, July—September 1862. The book’s aim is to tell “the story of the soldiers” from the XII Corps, from the march “toward Cedar Run” until Antietam (pg. xi).
The Federal XII Corps, whose units had fought in the Shenandoah Valley separately as divisions, initially was designated as the II Corps of the Army of Virginia on June 26, 1862 (pg. 3). The first major action the new corps fought and entirely on its own, was on August 9, 1862, at Cedar Mountain. The blue-clad soldiers were pitted against their well-known adversary at that time, Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson who had commanded Confederates in the Shenandoah Valley earlier that year. Due to the casualties received and time needed to recuperate, the corps missed the major action at Second Bull Run, being held around Bristoe Station, Virginia. During the campaign that led to Antietam on September 17, 1862, the corps was officially added to the Army of the Potomac and became the XII Corps under the command of Major General Joseph K. Mansfield. During that engagement Mansfield was mortally wounded and in intense fighting throughout the morning and into the afternoon the corps fought tenaciously. One soldier writing “I know that I, for one, was completely exhausted…quite oblivious of the fact that the field of the dead was only a few steps away” (pg. 340).
Although Bryan ends the narrative shortly after the telling of Antietam—which leads one to envision a possible second volume of the corps—a brief synopsis of the next movements of the command is given. However, that is the only time in the manuscript the term brief can be described, in a positive way of course. The study is a deep dive into the very fabric of this corps, the depth of research Bryan brings to the forefront is truly worthy to note. This is a micro-tactical study in the fullest sense of that phrase.
Another highlight of this book is Bryan’s attention to ensure a clear picture of both sides is represented. During the action at Antietam, Bryan includes Confederate accounts that perfectly balances what was unfolding during the bloodletting. This attention to detail allows the reader to grasp the desperation, devastation, and destruction that the bloodiest day in American history wrought on the lives of men from North and South.
The one critique of the book, if there is one, is the depth of the study. For those looking for a general campaign history this book may not be for them. One does need a baseline knowledge of the American Civil War with a working understanding of the campaigning season in Virginia in the summer and autumn of 1862 to glean the most out of this study. For those with ancestors that fought in the units, which hailed from an array of states, ranging from Connecticut in New England to Wisconsin, one will be amply pleased by the primary sources used and the extensive footnotes compiled by Bryan.
With Bryan’s aim to tell the story from the soldier perspective he also filled the void the late Ezra Carmen, first historian of the battle of Antietam, who once lamented in his own manuscript that due to the paucity of participants—the XII Corps numbered only 7,200 men on September 17—he was “disappointed with the scant attention given to the XII Corp’s efforts in the official reports” (pg. XI). Thanks to Bryan that oversight is erased and the “unlikely candidate for remarkable feats at Antietam” that the corps was has been overturned.
Cedar Mountain to Antietam, A Civil War Campaign History of the Union XII Corps, July – September 1862
M. Chris Bryan
Savas Beatie, LLC., $34.95