Book Review: From Frederick to Sharpsburg: People, Places and Events of the Maryland Campaign before Antietam

From Frederick to Sharpsburg: People, Places and Events of the Maryland Campaign before Antietam. By Steven R. Stotelmyer. Sharpsburg: The Antietam Institute, 2023. Hardcover, 515 pp. $34.39.

Reviewed by Robin Friedman

Founded in 2021, the Antietam Institute is a non-profit organization whose activities include publishing books to improve the public’s understanding of the 1862 Maryland Campaign, the Battle of Antietam, and their pivotal role in the Civil War. In 2023, the Institute published Steven Stotelmyer’s From Frederick to Sharpsburg, which examines aspects of the Maryland Campaign that receive less attention than the Battle of Antietam. A native of Hagerstown, Stotelmyer carried his love for history through careers in education and civil engineering. Since retiring in 2014, he has devoted himself to learning and teaching. Stotelmyer has written two prior books about the Maryland Campaign and serves as a National Park Service Volunteer and as a NPS Certified Antietam and South Mountain Battlefield tour guide.

The Maryland Campaign began on September 4, 1862, when the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by Gen. Robert E. Lee, crossed the Potomac River into Maryland. It ended with the bloodiest day in American history on September 17 at Antietam when Lee’s army fought the reorganized Army of the Potomac under Gen. George B. McClellan before retreating back into Virginia. Stotelmyer’s book examines events in the campaign leading up to Antietam and relates them to the battle and the outcome of the campaign. The Foreword, written by Antietam scholar Dr. Thomas G. Clemens, finds that the book “contains much new research and excellent scholarship on some of the lesser-known aspects of the Maryland Campaign.” (ii) The book includes seven chronologically-arranged chapters followed by eleven appendices providing more detail on the matters discussed in the text.

The topics discussed range from subjects with a broad impact on the Maryland Campaign to smaller matters. Stotelmyer critically uses a wide-range of sources, both primary and secondary, which is valuable, but at times makes it difficult to follow the discussion of some of the more obscure events. On large issues in the campaign, Stotelmyer offers a favorable view of McClellan’s command decisions. He praises McClellan for his reorganization of the Army of the Potomac and for what Stotelmyer finds as his aggressive, rapid pursuit of Lee from the outset.  Stotelmyer is critical of Confederate cavalry chief Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. Stotelmyer views Stuart as being more interested in seeking entertainment rather than keeping Lee apprised of Union movements. He also criticizes Lee for the drafting and implementation of Special Orders No. 191. In addition, in Appendix A, “Lee’s Delicate Condition,” Stotelmyer suggests that a serious physical injury Lee suffered just before entering Maryland may have affected some of the decisions he made during the Campaign.

Stotelmyer examines the Confederate objectives of the Maryland Campaign, which he sees as hopefully persuading Maryland to join the Confederacy and influencing the mid-term Congressional elections of 1862. The book’s first and longest essay “No Cold Shoulder: The September 1862 Occupation of Frederick” examines what Stotelmyer describes as the “seminal event of the Maryland Campaign of 1862” (1) with the Confederate occupation of Frederick from September 6 through 11, 1862. Stotelmyer attempts to modify the customary interpretation of the Maryland Campaign by arguing that the residents of Frederick and Western Maryland were more favorably disposed to the Confederacy than often traditionally portrayed. He finds a substantial minority committed or sympathetic to the Confederate cause.

The book also includes a lengthy chapter, “Special Orders No. 191: Lee’s Plans or Lee’s Deceit,” which, again, offers fresh observations on this much-discussed part of the Maryland Campaign. Several chapters of the book discuss the Battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862.  Stotelmyer discusses the death of Union Gen. Jesse Lee Reno near the end of the battle. In his final chapter, “The Enigma of Burnside and Cox: Higher Command Dysfunction and the Lover Fords of Antietam Creek” to discuss the ways in which IX Corp commander Reno’s death might have impacted Union action at the famed “Burnside Bridge” during Antietam. Stotelmyer also examines some of the smaller, grislier details of South Mountain, including the story of the 56 bodies thrown into what became known as “Wise’s Well” at the conclusion of the battle.

One of the best parts of the book is its integration of military history with literature in Chapter 2, “Did She or Didn’t She: The Legend of Barbara Fritchie,” which examines the facts behind John Greenleaf Whittier’s famous poem Barbara Fritchie. In Whittier’s poem, the defiant 92 year-old Fritchie unfurls the Union Flag in the face of Confederate troops passing through Frederick under Stonewall Jackson. When Jackson orders his troops to fire on the flag, Barbara Fritchie cries out “Shoot, if you must this old gray head,/But spare your country’s flag.” A chastened Jackson replies: “Who touches a hair of yon gray head/Dies like a dog! March on!” Stotelmyer offers a lively account of Barbara Fritchie in life and in Whittier’s poem. He concludes that “we as a nation in the modern era could do far worse than Barbara Fritchie as an American heroine.” (85)

Stotelmyer has written an excellent study in the venerable tradition of the lay Civil War historian.  His book will be of interest to readers who share his passion for the Maryland Campaign.


Robin Friedman retired from a career as an attorney with the United States Department of the Interior in 2010. He now spends most of his time pursing his passion for American studies, including history, literature, philosophy, and the Civil War.


1 Response to Book Review: From Frederick to Sharpsburg: People, Places and Events of the Maryland Campaign before Antietam

  1. Just ordered the book and look forward to reading it. My daughter and her family recently moved to a farm near Antietam, and being a “Civil War guy” and author, I’m now excited to read more about her neighborhood—which was invaded three times by the Rebels! It’s such beautiful country, it’s hard to image it as an area filled with bloody battlefields.

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