Reviewed by Doug Crenshaw
Scott Hartwig’s recently published book, I Dread the Thought of the Place: The Battle of Antietam and the End of the Maryland Campaign, was one of the most awaited titles of 2023. Much of the anticipation came from the thorough scholarship and skillful writing he offered readers in his preceding volume, To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012).
Often a letdown follows built up anticipation. But, no worries, there is no sophomore slump here. Hartwig’s effort with I Dread the Thought of the Place is prodigious. It is difficult to think of much any facet of the Battle of Antietam that he does not examine within its covers. The author’s prose is again excellent, and the level of research is superb. And although Hartwig provides an amazing amount of detail throughout the book, he does so without bogging it down.
Coming in at over 750 pages of text, this study is probably not for the casual reader who is looking for a “give me the highlights” book. However, for the serious reader interested in Antietam, this is undoubtedly the book for them. Despite its heft, it is still a page-turner. It is simply outstanding how Hartwig weaves the battle’s strategy and tactics aspects with the multitudes of personal accounts he incorporates, deftly balancing both. Maps are abundant, and for the hardcore students of Antietam, there are nearly100 pages of endnotes that demonstrate the depth of Hartwig’s research.
Throughout the book the reader feels transported back in time to the battlefield, watching the action, and feeling the suspense as events hang in the balance. Along the way, Hartwig shatters many myths and misconceptions about the battle in a most convincing manner. Parts of the book that were particularly compelling include Hartwig’s extensive discussion of Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s attack at the Rohrback Bridge and Maj. Gen. A. P. Hill’s timely arrival and counterattack after a hard march from Harpers Ferry. The author also provides a good treatment of the post-battle action at Shepherdstown, including yet another timely march and assault by A. P. Hill’s Division.
The Order of Battle is instructive. When looking at it closely, the sheer number of leadership changes it lists clearly reflects the violence of the one-day battle. Hartwig also includes a list of killed, wounded, and missing for every regiment. For many regiments, losses were extreme. Hartwig points out that the battle reduced more Confederate brigades to a combat ineffective level than at any other time until the end of the war. He also points out that Gen. Robert E. Lee probably would have had a difficult time continuing his offensive, as the ranks and leadership of most Army of Northern Virginia divisions were so shattered. An estimated 30% of the army’s leadership were casualties, and in some brigades all or nearly all field officers were killed or wounded. Hartwig provides several in-depth individual examples, including the sad story of Confederate Gen. George. B. Anderson. The effort that Hartwig puts into this section is impressive and it certainly makes a valuable contribution to the battle’s existing scholarship. Of course, Federal casualties were also devastating. Both armies needed some time to reorganize and refit after the bloody battle.
Hartwig’s treatment of the of the battle’s wounded is very moving. He also provides a heart-rending discussion of the plight of area civilians. In addition, his coverage of Lincoln’s political strategy regarding the Emancipation Proclamation is insightful. If all that were not enough, he even offers a primer on tactics.
It is difficult to imagine that this volume, combined with the author’s previous book, To Antietam Creek, will ever be supplanted as the definitive studies on the 1862 Maryland Campaign. Serious students of the Battle of Antietam will find I Dread the Thought of the Place invaluable. It is an outstanding work of scholarship and writing. Hartwig certainly deserves the recognition he is sure to receive for the tremendous effort he put into this book and its predecessor.