Decision at Antietam by Andrew J. Heller

EXTRACT FOR
Decision at Antietam 
(Andrew J. Heller)


DECISION AT ANTIETAM

A counterfactual history of the Civil War

Andrew J. Heller

Introduction

The American Civil War is by all odds the most popular subject of alternate history fiction, as it is the most popular subject of straight history in the United States. That popularity is doubtless related to the fact that there are many people in this country who remain unreconciled to the result, even in the 21st Century. This phenomenon has actually grown in both scope and seriousness.
Many novels have been written in which the South was victorious. Until recently, the majority of them were simply dedicated to showing that Lee, Jackson, Stuart and their men were better than the Yankees, and deserved to win. In other words, they were for the most part, fairly harmless hero-worship.
Within the last 20 years or so, things have changed. A considerable number of revisionist “histories” of the Civil War by alleged scholars have been published purporting to show that, among other things, secession had nothing to do with slavery, the war was entirely the result of Northern aggression, secession was justified by intolerable oppression of the South by the Federal government, and similar, equally dubious propositions.
This has in turn resulted in a series of new, openly political alternate histories of the Civil War which echo the afore-mentioned “scholarly” histories. These new alternate histories tend to be more strident in their claims of Confederate superiority, to the extent that they begin by assuming that the South would certainly have won the war, if not for bad luck, such as the accidental shooting of Stonewall Jackson by his own men at Chancellorsville.
My purpose in writing this book is to show be means of a counter-factual “thought experiment” that if anything, the South was very fortunate to avoid being defeated much more quickly than it was in fact, by use of a serious counterfactual analysis. The book begins by looking at what very nearly happened the Battle of Antietam, then goes on to set forth some of the consequences that would have been likely to flow from what was initially only a very slight alteration in events (the late arrival of A.P. Hill at Sharpsburg). I have made every effort to base my conclusions on reliable historical sources, and have done my best to set aside any preconceptions I may have had, although I cannot promise that I was completely successful with the latter.
I do not believe it is necessary to further prove that the Confederate cause was, in the words of Ulysses S. Grant, “the worst one men ever fought for”, nor is this the place for it. My purpose here is to show that the South was, rather than the victim of unusually bad luck, the beneficiary of undeserved good fortune, and to offer a plausible example of how the war could have easily gone very much worse for the Confederacy than it did in fact.
This book was originally published as part of a novel entitled If the North Had Won the Civil War, which was set in a 21st Century CSA. In retrospect, my counterfactual history may have been overlooked by serious students of the Civil War, because it was presented intermingled with this novel. So for those of you who like your counterfactuals straight with no chaser, I give you Decision at Antietam.
In addition to some comparatively minor textual changes and corrections, there is one major change to the original material. I had accumulated many contemporary photographs of the (real) people places and things in the book, as well as a number of maps, none of which were in If the North Had Won the Civil War . I have taken the opportunity presented by the publication of this book to include them here, and I think addition represents a significant improvement over the original presentation. All illustrations are in the public domain courtesy of the Library of Congress, unless otherwise noted.

Andrew J. Heller
May, 2018
Erdenheim, PA


Chapter One
"A most terrible sight"

Robert E. Lee began his invasion of Maryland in 1862 as he began all of his campaigns, with one goal in mind: to engage and destroy the enemy army in a single great battle:- in short, to recreate Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz.
The trait that made Lee notable among military men of his time and place was not his obsessive quest for a Napoleonic, war-winning victory in battle (this was typical of West Point graduates of his era), but rather his willingness to take long chances to achieve one. Napoleon's Grand Army almost always had numerical superiority and other tactical advantages over its foes in its great victories, particularly in artillery. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, on the other hand, was invariably outnumbered by its opponents, and if the Rebels possessed superiority in the cavalry arm, this was more than offset by the quality and quantity of the superb Federal artillery.
So in order to create the conditions for his Austerlitz, Lee had to take chances, sometimes what seemed like desperate chances. Like a professional riverboat gambler ready to risk his entire fortune on the turn of a card, Lee was willing to play with the highest stakes for the biggest prize, a war-winning battle of annihilation. While conventional military wisdom held that offensive action requires a manpower advantage of at least 3 to 2 in favor of the attacker, Lee repeatedly demonstrated his readiness to strike at the enemy in an attempt to bring about a battle of annihilation, undeterred by the fact that he was usually on the short end of 3 to 2 odds or worse.
Lee set the tone for his aggressive style of command in the first battle of the Seven Days, at Mechanicsville, by dividing his forces in the face of the much larger Union army in order to go over to the offensive. He left only 25,000 men in the Richmond defenses to face approximately 3 times as many Federals, while he shifted the bulk of his army across the Chickahominy Creek to gain local superiority, risking the loss of the Confederate capitol and possibly the war itself in an attempt to destroy the Union right wing.
When this blow went awry, he continued to attack the Federal army over the course of the following week, as if he had 105,000 men and the enemy 85,000, instead of the reverse. In the end, Lee was dissatisfied with merely defeating and driving off the bigger Union army, and saving Richmond. After the Seven Days, he wrote, "Under ordinary circumstances, the Federal Army should have been destroyed." Soon thereafter, Lee pushed all his chips in with another attempt to win the big pot, when he divided his army in the face of the enemy yet again, to bamboozle Pope and smash his army at Second Manassas.
It should be no surprise then, to discover that the characteristic which made Lee a great general would also be the one that led to his downfall. For if ever there was a design that involved the embracing of great risks, it was Lee's plan for the invasion of Maryland in September, 1862, designated Special Orders 191. Under this plan, the Army of Northern Virginia -- which after recent heavy fighting numbered no more than 50,000 effectives -- was divided into several detachments, none of which could quickly come to the support of the others. The movements of these units moreover, would be made in the presence of a Federal army more than 75,000 strong.
Lee sent the bulk of his forces, consisting of 30,000 men divided into three units, under Brigadier General John G. Walker, Major General Lafayette McLaws and Major General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, with the latter in overall command, to surround the Union garrison of 12,000 guarding the Federal armory at Harper's Ferry at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Meanwhile, Major Generals Longstreet and D.H. Hill with 12,000 men, were given the task of preventing any Union forces from intervening by guarding the northern approaches to Harper's Ferry at Hagerstown and South Mountain. During this operation, the various units of the Army of Northern Virginia would be separated from each other by more than 20 miles, and would be unable to support each other in the event of any sudden, unexpected activity by the Union army. The entire movement was scheduled to begin on September 10, with the reduction of Harper's Ferry to be completed, rather optimistically as it turned out, by no later than September 13. As it happened, Jackson's men were not in position on the heights overlooking Harper's Ferry until the 15th, when the Federal garrison was forced to surrender.
Certainly Lee had his reasons for assuming that the Federal commander, George McClellan, would not make any sudden moves which might put the divided Army of Northern Virginia at risk. McClellan was a man who thought not merely twice, but repeatedly, before making a decision of any kind, and after the Seven Days, Lee had taken his measure. "He is an able general," Lee told one of his subordinates, "but an exceedingly cautious one." Moreover, "Young Napoleon" (one of McClellan's nicknames, and a singularly inappropriate one), constantly labored under the delusion that his army was outnumbered by Lee's, when in fact the reverse was true.
In addition, Lee believed that Army of the Potomac had been so badly mauled after the Seven Days that it would not be capable of undertaking offensive operations for at least another three to four weeks, by which time he expected the Federal unit at Harper's Ferry to be eliminated and the Army of Northern Virginia reunited. In this he was overly optimistic. The Union army had recovered from the recent reverses in Virginia far more quickly than Lee anticipated, as he was to soon discover.
Still, perhaps everything would have fallen out as Lee had envisioned, but for the unlikeliest of accidents. A copy of Special Orders 191 had been used by one of D.H. Hill's staff officers to wrap some cigars, and the officer had carelessly mislaid the precious paper. On September 13, that copy of Lee's battle plan was found by two Union soldiers as they foraged through an abandoned Confederate camp outside Frederick, Maryland. Their discovery was in the Union commander's hands a few hours later.
McClellan was now in the position of a poker player who can see the other player's cards while his opponent suspects nothing. The Army of the Potomac, with more than 75,000 men, had the opportunity to attack and overwhelm the smaller Army of Northern Virginia while the latter was scattered in penny packets all over the landscape. Moreover, the Federal Army was closer to the various parts of the Confederate army than they were to each other. If he moved quickly, McClellan could destroy the smaller portion under Longstreet and D.H. Hill at Boonesboro, then descend on the remainder under Jackson's command, while they were engaged in the capture of Harpers Ferry, crushing each of the scattered units in detail with overwhelming numbers. In short, the Union commander knew he had a full house and that his opponent held a busted flush. All he needed to do was go all in on the pot, show his cards and the game would be over.
But George McClellan had risen to the top of his profession by his attention to detail and thorough preparation, not by risk-taking. He had almost nothing of the riverboat gambler in his make-up and even under these circumstances, when the war might be won with a forced march and an all-out attack, he moved cautiously. He attacked the Confederates at Turner's Gap on South Mountain on the 14th, eventually flanking the outnumbered Longstreet out of the position only after a long day of fighting. By then, however, the situation had changed.
Lee was soon made aware of the lost orders, and of the dire peril of his army. Under the circumstances, the most logical move would have been for him to withdraw back across the Potomac, while sending new orders for Jackson to rejoin him in Martinsburg, where the campaign had begun. Given McClellan's record both before and after the ensuing battle, it seems unlikely that the Federal army would have pressed the Confederate retreat very closely. Why Lee did not call off the attack on Harper's Ferry and return to Virginia is still a matter for speculation. In the light of what followed, it must remain so forever.
Instead of abandoning the campaign and returning to his starting point, Lee chose to challenge McClellan, taking up a strong position in the little town of Sharpsburg, located in an angle between Antietam Creek and the Potomac River, and called on his army to assemble there. When he received word that the Federal garrison at Harper's Ferry had finally been forced to surrender on the 15th, he ordered Jackson to bring all his men to Sharpsburg as quickly as possible to join him.
What made Lee's decision so strange was that the coming battle would be a straightforward slugging match, with no opportunity for him to attempt the kind of dazzling maneuvers that had been the key to his previous victories. There was no possibility of an Austerlitz at Antietam; at least not for Lee. Given the disparity in numbers between the two armies and the nature of the position however, it might become a battle of annihilation with the Lee's army on the short end.
Even after all of Jackson's men arrived in Sharpsburg, the Army of Northern Virginia would be able to count no more than 50,000 men as "present for duty", not all of whom would be available if the battle began the next morning, as Lee expected. As it was, even though McClellan did not attack for two more days, packets of men, a division or two at a time, continued to arrive at Sharpsburg on the day of the battle, often just in the nick of time.
The high ground overlooking the Antietam Creek made for an excellent defensive position, but it was far from impregnable. And if the line was broken, there was nowhere for the defenders to go. The position backed on the broad Potomac River, with only one small ford available if a sudden retreat was required, a ford which was utterly inadequate to permit more than a handful of men at a time to cross. If the Federals did break through, the Army of Northern Virginia would be caught in a trap from which there was no escape.

Decision at Antietam by Andrew J. Heller

EXTRACT FOR
Decision at Antietam 
(Andrew J. Heller)


DECISION AT ANTIETAM

A counterfactual history of the Civil War

Andrew J. Heller

Introduction

The American Civil War is by all odds the most popular subject of alternate history fiction, as it is the most popular subject of straight history in the United States. That popularity is doubtless related to the fact that there are many people in this country who remain unreconciled to the result, even in the 21st Century. This phenomenon has actually grown in both scope and seriousness.
Many novels have been written in which the South was victorious. Until recently, the majority of them were simply dedicated to showing that Lee, Jackson, Stuart and their men were better than the Yankees, and deserved to win. In other words, they were for the most part, fairly harmless hero-worship.
Within the last 20 years or so, things have changed. A considerable number of revisionist “histories” of the Civil War by alleged scholars have been published purporting to show that, among other things, secession had nothing to do with slavery, the war was entirely the result of Northern aggression, secession was justified by intolerable oppression of the South by the Federal government, and similar, equally dubious propositions.
This has in turn resulted in a series of new, openly political alternate histories of the Civil War which echo the afore-mentioned “scholarly” histories. These new alternate histories tend to be more strident in their claims of Confederate superiority, to the extent that they begin by assuming that the South would certainly have won the war, if not for bad luck, such as the accidental shooting of Stonewall Jackson by his own men at Chancellorsville.
My purpose in writing this book is to show be means of a counter-factual “thought experiment” that if anything, the South was very fortunate to avoid being defeated much more quickly than it was in fact, by use of a serious counterfactual analysis. The book begins by looking at what very nearly happened the Battle of Antietam, then goes on to set forth some of the consequences that would have been likely to flow from what was initially only a very slight alteration in events (the late arrival of A.P. Hill at Sharpsburg). I have made every effort to base my conclusions on reliable historical sources, and have done my best to set aside any preconceptions I may have had, although I cannot promise that I was completely successful with the latter.
I do not believe it is necessary to further prove that the Confederate cause was, in the words of Ulysses S. Grant, “the worst one men ever fought for”, nor is this the place for it. My purpose here is to show that the South was, rather than the victim of unusually bad luck, the beneficiary of undeserved good fortune, and to offer a plausible example of how the war could have easily gone very much worse for the Confederacy than it did in fact.
This book was originally published as part of a novel entitled If the North Had Won the Civil War, which was set in a 21st Century CSA. In retrospect, my counterfactual history may have been overlooked by serious students of the Civil War, because it was presented intermingled with this novel. So for those of you who like your counterfactuals straight with no chaser, I give you Decision at Antietam.
In addition to some comparatively minor textual changes and corrections, there is one major change to the original material. I had accumulated many contemporary photographs of the (real) people places and things in the book, as well as a number of maps, none of which were in If the North Had Won the Civil War . I have taken the opportunity presented by the publication of this book to include them here, and I think addition represents a significant improvement over the original presentation. All illustrations are in the public domain courtesy of the Library of Congress, unless otherwise noted.

Andrew J. Heller
May, 2018
Erdenheim, PA


Chapter One
"A most terrible sight"

Robert E. Lee began his invasion of Maryland in 1862 as he began all of his campaigns, with one goal in mind: to engage and destroy the enemy army in a single great battle:- in short, to recreate Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz.
The trait that made Lee notable among military men of his time and place was not his obsessive quest for a Napoleonic, war-winning victory in battle (this was typical of West Point graduates of his era), but rather his willingness to take long chances to achieve one. Napoleon's Grand Army almost always had numerical superiority and other tactical advantages over its foes in its great victories, particularly in artillery. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, on the other hand, was invariably outnumbered by its opponents, and if the Rebels possessed superiority in the cavalry arm, this was more than offset by the quality and quantity of the superb Federal artillery.
So in order to create the conditions for his Austerlitz, Lee had to take chances, sometimes what seemed like desperate chances. Like a professional riverboat gambler ready to risk his entire fortune on the turn of a card, Lee was willing to play with the highest stakes for the biggest prize, a war-winning battle of annihilation. While conventional military wisdom held that offensive action requires a manpower advantage of at least 3 to 2 in favor of the attacker, Lee repeatedly demonstrated his readiness to strike at the enemy in an attempt to bring about a battle of annihilation, undeterred by the fact that he was usually on the short end of 3 to 2 odds or worse.
Lee set the tone for his aggressive style of command in the first battle of the Seven Days, at Mechanicsville, by dividing his forces in the face of the much larger Union army in order to go over to the offensive. He left only 25,000 men in the Richmond defenses to face approximately 3 times as many Federals, while he shifted the bulk of his army across the Chickahominy Creek to gain local superiority, risking the loss of the Confederate capitol and possibly the war itself in an attempt to destroy the Union right wing.
When this blow went awry, he continued to attack the Federal army over the course of the following week, as if he had 105,000 men and the enemy 85,000, instead of the reverse. In the end, Lee was dissatisfied with merely defeating and driving off the bigger Union army, and saving Richmond. After the Seven Days, he wrote, "Under ordinary circumstances, the Federal Army should have been destroyed." Soon thereafter, Lee pushed all his chips in with another attempt to win the big pot, when he divided his army in the face of the enemy yet again, to bamboozle Pope and smash his army at Second Manassas.
It should be no surprise then, to discover that the characteristic which made Lee a great general would also be the one that led to his downfall. For if ever there was a design that involved the embracing of great risks, it was Lee's plan for the invasion of Maryland in September, 1862, designated Special Orders 191. Under this plan, the Army of Northern Virginia -- which after recent heavy fighting numbered no more than 50,000 effectives -- was divided into several detachments, none of which could quickly come to the support of the others. The movements of these units moreover, would be made in the presence of a Federal army more than 75,000 strong.
Lee sent the bulk of his forces, consisting of 30,000 men divided into three units, under Brigadier General John G. Walker, Major General Lafayette McLaws and Major General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, with the latter in overall command, to surround the Union garrison of 12,000 guarding the Federal armory at Harper's Ferry at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Meanwhile, Major Generals Longstreet and D.H. Hill with 12,000 men, were given the task of preventing any Union forces from intervening by guarding the northern approaches to Harper's Ferry at Hagerstown and South Mountain. During this operation, the various units of the Army of Northern Virginia would be separated from each other by more than 20 miles, and would be unable to support each other in the event of any sudden, unexpected activity by the Union army. The entire movement was scheduled to begin on September 10, with the reduction of Harper's Ferry to be completed, rather optimistically as it turned out, by no later than September 13. As it happened, Jackson's men were not in position on the heights overlooking Harper's Ferry until the 15th, when the Federal garrison was forced to surrender.
Certainly Lee had his reasons for assuming that the Federal commander, George McClellan, would not make any sudden moves which might put the divided Army of Northern Virginia at risk. McClellan was a man who thought not merely twice, but repeatedly, before making a decision of any kind, and after the Seven Days, Lee had taken his measure. "He is an able general," Lee told one of his subordinates, "but an exceedingly cautious one." Moreover, "Young Napoleon" (one of McClellan's nicknames, and a singularly inappropriate one), constantly labored under the delusion that his army was outnumbered by Lee's, when in fact the reverse was true.
In addition, Lee believed that Army of the Potomac had been so badly mauled after the Seven Days that it would not be capable of undertaking offensive operations for at least another three to four weeks, by which time he expected the Federal unit at Harper's Ferry to be eliminated and the Army of Northern Virginia reunited. In this he was overly optimistic. The Union army had recovered from the recent reverses in Virginia far more quickly than Lee anticipated, as he was to soon discover.
Still, perhaps everything would have fallen out as Lee had envisioned, but for the unlikeliest of accidents. A copy of Special Orders 191 had been used by one of D.H. Hill's staff officers to wrap some cigars, and the officer had carelessly mislaid the precious paper. On September 13, that copy of Lee's battle plan was found by two Union soldiers as they foraged through an abandoned Confederate camp outside Frederick, Maryland. Their discovery was in the Union commander's hands a few hours later.
McClellan was now in the position of a poker player who can see the other player's cards while his opponent suspects nothing. The Army of the Potomac, with more than 75,000 men, had the opportunity to attack and overwhelm the smaller Army of Northern Virginia while the latter was scattered in penny packets all over the landscape. Moreover, the Federal Army was closer to the various parts of the Confederate army than they were to each other. If he moved quickly, McClellan could destroy the smaller portion under Longstreet and D.H. Hill at Boonesboro, then descend on the remainder under Jackson's command, while they were engaged in the capture of Harpers Ferry, crushing each of the scattered units in detail with overwhelming numbers. In short, the Union commander knew he had a full house and that his opponent held a busted flush. All he needed to do was go all in on the pot, show his cards and the game would be over.
But George McClellan had risen to the top of his profession by his attention to detail and thorough preparation, not by risk-taking. He had almost nothing of the riverboat gambler in his make-up and even under these circumstances, when the war might be won with a forced march and an all-out attack, he moved cautiously. He attacked the Confederates at Turner's Gap on South Mountain on the 14th, eventually flanking the outnumbered Longstreet out of the position only after a long day of fighting. By then, however, the situation had changed.
Lee was soon made aware of the lost orders, and of the dire peril of his army. Under the circumstances, the most logical move would have been for him to withdraw back across the Potomac, while sending new orders for Jackson to rejoin him in Martinsburg, where the campaign had begun. Given McClellan's record both before and after the ensuing battle, it seems unlikely that the Federal army would have pressed the Confederate retreat very closely. Why Lee did not call off the attack on Harper's Ferry and return to Virginia is still a matter for speculation. In the light of what followed, it must remain so forever.
Instead of abandoning the campaign and returning to his starting point, Lee chose to challenge McClellan, taking up a strong position in the little town of Sharpsburg, located in an angle between Antietam Creek and the Potomac River, and called on his army to assemble there. When he received word that the Federal garrison at Harper's Ferry had finally been forced to surrender on the 15th, he ordered Jackson to bring all his men to Sharpsburg as quickly as possible to join him.
What made Lee's decision so strange was that the coming battle would be a straightforward slugging match, with no opportunity for him to attempt the kind of dazzling maneuvers that had been the key to his previous victories. There was no possibility of an Austerlitz at Antietam; at least not for Lee. Given the disparity in numbers between the two armies and the nature of the position however, it might become a battle of annihilation with the Lee's army on the short end.
Even after all of Jackson's men arrived in Sharpsburg, the Army of Northern Virginia would be able to count no more than 50,000 men as "present for duty", not all of whom would be available if the battle began the next morning, as Lee expected. As it was, even though McClellan did not attack for two more days, packets of men, a division or two at a time, continued to arrive at Sharpsburg on the day of the battle, often just in the nick of time.
The high ground overlooking the Antietam Creek made for an excellent defensive position, but it was far from impregnable. And if the line was broken, there was nowhere for the defenders to go. The position backed on the broad Potomac River, with only one small ford available if a sudden retreat was required, a ford which was utterly inadequate to permit more than a handful of men at a time to cross. If the Federals did break through, the Army of Northern Virginia would be caught in a trap from which there was no escape.

EXTRACT FOR
Decision at Antietam 
(Andrew J. Heller)


DECISION AT ANTIETAM

A counterfactual history of the Civil War

Andrew J. Heller

Introduction

The American Civil War is by all odds the most popular subject of alternate history fiction, as it is the most popular subject of straight history in the United States. That popularity is doubtless related to the fact that there are many people in this country who remain unreconciled to the result, even in the 21st Century. This phenomenon has actually grown in both scope and seriousness.
Many novels have been written in which the South was victorious. Until recently, the majority of them were simply dedicated to showing that Lee, Jackson, Stuart and their men were better than the Yankees, and deserved to win. In other words, they were for the most part, fairly harmless hero-worship.
Within the last 20 years or so, things have changed. A considerable number of revisionist “histories” of the Civil War by alleged scholars have been published purporting to show that, among other things, secession had nothing to do with slavery, the war was entirely the result of Northern aggression, secession was justified by intolerable oppression of the South by the Federal government, and similar, equally dubious propositions.
This has in turn resulted in a series of new, openly political alternate histories of the Civil War which echo the afore-mentioned “scholarly” histories. These new alternate histories tend to be more strident in their claims of Confederate superiority, to the extent that they begin by assuming that the South would certainly have won the war, if not for bad luck, such as the accidental shooting of Stonewall Jackson by his own men at Chancellorsville.
My purpose in writing this book is to show be means of a counter-factual “thought experiment” that if anything, the South was very fortunate to avoid being defeated much more quickly than it was in fact, by use of a serious counterfactual analysis. The book begins by looking at what very nearly happened the Battle of Antietam, then goes on to set forth some of the consequences that would have been likely to flow from what was initially only a very slight alteration in events (the late arrival of A.P. Hill at Sharpsburg). I have made every effort to base my conclusions on reliable historical sources, and have done my best to set aside any preconceptions I may have had, although I cannot promise that I was completely successful with the latter.
I do not believe it is necessary to further prove that the Confederate cause was, in the words of Ulysses S. Grant, “the worst one men ever fought for”, nor is this the place for it. My purpose here is to show that the South was, rather than the victim of unusually bad luck, the beneficiary of undeserved good fortune, and to offer a plausible example of how the war could have easily gone very much worse for the Confederacy than it did in fact.
This book was originally published as part of a novel entitled If the North Had Won the Civil War, which was set in a 21st Century CSA. In retrospect, my counterfactual history may have been overlooked by serious students of the Civil War, because it was presented intermingled with this novel. So for those of you who like your counterfactuals straight with no chaser, I give you Decision at Antietam.
In addition to some comparatively minor textual changes and corrections, there is one major change to the original material. I had accumulated many contemporary photographs of the (real) people places and things in the book, as well as a number of maps, none of which were in If the North Had Won the Civil War . I have taken the opportunity presented by the publication of this book to include them here, and I think addition represents a significant improvement over the original presentation. All illustrations are in the public domain courtesy of the Library of Congress, unless otherwise noted.

Andrew J. Heller
May, 2018
Erdenheim, PA


Chapter One
"A most terrible sight"

Robert E. Lee began his invasion of Maryland in 1862 as he began all of his campaigns, with one goal in mind: to engage and destroy the enemy army in a single great battle:- in short, to recreate Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz.
The trait that made Lee notable among military men of his time and place was not his obsessive quest for a Napoleonic, war-winning victory in battle (this was typical of West Point graduates of his era), but rather his willingness to take long chances to achieve one. Napoleon's Grand Army almost always had numerical superiority and other tactical advantages over its foes in its great victories, particularly in artillery. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, on the other hand, was invariably outnumbered by its opponents, and if the Rebels possessed superiority in the cavalry arm, this was more than offset by the quality and quantity of the superb Federal artillery.
So in order to create the conditions for his Austerlitz, Lee had to take chances, sometimes what seemed like desperate chances. Like a professional riverboat gambler ready to risk his entire fortune on the turn of a card, Lee was willing to play with the highest stakes for the biggest prize, a war-winning battle of annihilation. While conventional military wisdom held that offensive action requires a manpower advantage of at least 3 to 2 in favor of the attacker, Lee repeatedly demonstrated his readiness to strike at the enemy in an attempt to bring about a battle of annihilation, undeterred by the fact that he was usually on the short end of 3 to 2 odds or worse.
Lee set the tone for his aggressive style of command in the first battle of the Seven Days, at Mechanicsville, by dividing his forces in the face of the much larger Union army in order to go over to the offensive. He left only 25,000 men in the Richmond defenses to face approximately 3 times as many Federals, while he shifted the bulk of his army across the Chickahominy Creek to gain local superiority, risking the loss of the Confederate capitol and possibly the war itself in an attempt to destroy the Union right wing.
When this blow went awry, he continued to attack the Federal army over the course of the following week, as if he had 105,000 men and the enemy 85,000, instead of the reverse. In the end, Lee was dissatisfied with merely defeating and driving off the bigger Union army, and saving Richmond. After the Seven Days, he wrote, "Under ordinary circumstances, the Federal Army should have been destroyed." Soon thereafter, Lee pushed all his chips in with another attempt to win the big pot, when he divided his army in the face of the enemy yet again, to bamboozle Pope and smash his army at Second Manassas.
It should be no surprise then, to discover that the characteristic which made Lee a great general would also be the one that led to his downfall. For if ever there was a design that involved the embracing of great risks, it was Lee's plan for the invasion of Maryland in September, 1862, designated Special Orders 191. Under this plan, the Army of Northern Virginia -- which after recent heavy fighting numbered no more than 50,000 effectives -- was divided into several detachments, none of which could quickly come to the support of the others. The movements of these units moreover, would be made in the presence of a Federal army more than 75,000 strong.
Lee sent the bulk of his forces, consisting of 30,000 men divided into three units, under Brigadier General John G. Walker, Major General Lafayette McLaws and Major General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, with the latter in overall command, to surround the Union garrison of 12,000 guarding the Federal armory at Harper's Ferry at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Meanwhile, Major Generals Longstreet and D.H. Hill with 12,000 men, were given the task of preventing any Union forces from intervening by guarding the northern approaches to Harper's Ferry at Hagerstown and South Mountain. During this operation, the various units of the Army of Northern Virginia would be separated from each other by more than 20 miles, and would be unable to support each other in the event of any sudden, unexpected activity by the Union army. The entire movement was scheduled to begin on September 10, with the reduction of Harper's Ferry to be completed, rather optimistically as it turned out, by no later than September 13. As it happened, Jackson's men were not in position on the heights overlooking Harper's Ferry until the 15th, when the Federal garrison was forced to surrender.
Certainly Lee had his reasons for assuming that the Federal commander, George McClellan, would not make any sudden moves which might put the divided Army of Northern Virginia at risk. McClellan was a man who thought not merely twice, but repeatedly, before making a decision of any kind, and after the Seven Days, Lee had taken his measure. "He is an able general," Lee told one of his subordinates, "but an exceedingly cautious one." Moreover, "Young Napoleon" (one of McClellan's nicknames, and a singularly inappropriate one), constantly labored under the delusion that his army was outnumbered by Lee's, when in fact the reverse was true.
In addition, Lee believed that Army of the Potomac had been so badly mauled after the Seven Days that it would not be capable of undertaking offensive operations for at least another three to four weeks, by which time he expected the Federal unit at Harper's Ferry to be eliminated and the Army of Northern Virginia reunited. In this he was overly optimistic. The Union army had recovered from the recent reverses in Virginia far more quickly than Lee anticipated, as he was to soon discover.
Still, perhaps everything would have fallen out as Lee had envisioned, but for the unlikeliest of accidents. A copy of Special Orders 191 had been used by one of D.H. Hill's staff officers to wrap some cigars, and the officer had carelessly mislaid the precious paper. On September 13, that copy of Lee's battle plan was found by two Union soldiers as they foraged through an abandoned Confederate camp outside Frederick, Maryland. Their discovery was in the Union commander's hands a few hours later.
McClellan was now in the position of a poker player who can see the other player's cards while his opponent suspects nothing. The Army of the Potomac, with more than 75,000 men, had the opportunity to attack and overwhelm the smaller Army of Northern Virginia while the latter was scattered in penny packets all over the landscape. Moreover, the Federal Army was closer to the various parts of the Confederate army than they were to each other. If he moved quickly, McClellan could destroy the smaller portion under Longstreet and D.H. Hill at Boonesboro, then descend on the remainder under Jackson's command, while they were engaged in the capture of Harpers Ferry, crushing each of the scattered units in detail with overwhelming numbers. In short, the Union commander knew he had a full house and that his opponent held a busted flush. All he needed to do was go all in on the pot, show his cards and the game would be over.
But George McClellan had risen to the top of his profession by his attention to detail and thorough preparation, not by risk-taking. He had almost nothing of the riverboat gambler in his make-up and even under these circumstances, when the war might be won with a forced march and an all-out attack, he moved cautiously. He attacked the Confederates at Turner's Gap on South Mountain on the 14th, eventually flanking the outnumbered Longstreet out of the position only after a long day of fighting. By then, however, the situation had changed.
Lee was soon made aware of the lost orders, and of the dire peril of his army. Under the circumstances, the most logical move would have been for him to withdraw back across the Potomac, while sending new orders for Jackson to rejoin him in Martinsburg, where the campaign had begun. Given McClellan's record both before and after the ensuing battle, it seems unlikely that the Federal army would have pressed the Confederate retreat very closely. Why Lee did not call off the attack on Harper's Ferry and return to Virginia is still a matter for speculation. In the light of what followed, it must remain so forever.
Instead of abandoning the campaign and returning to his starting point, Lee chose to challenge McClellan, taking up a strong position in the little town of Sharpsburg, located in an angle between Antietam Creek and the Potomac River, and called on his army to assemble there. When he received word that the Federal garrison at Harper's Ferry had finally been forced to surrender on the 15th, he ordered Jackson to bring all his men to Sharpsburg as quickly as possible to join him.
What made Lee's decision so strange was that the coming battle would be a straightforward slugging match, with no opportunity for him to attempt the kind of dazzling maneuvers that had been the key to his previous victories. There was no possibility of an Austerlitz at Antietam; at least not for Lee. Given the disparity in numbers between the two armies and the nature of the position however, it might become a battle of annihilation with the Lee's army on the short end.
Even after all of Jackson's men arrived in Sharpsburg, the Army of Northern Virginia would be able to count no more than 50,000 men as "present for duty", not all of whom would be available if the battle began the next morning, as Lee expected. As it was, even though McClellan did not attack for two more days, packets of men, a division or two at a time, continued to arrive at Sharpsburg on the day of the battle, often just in the nick of time.
The high ground overlooking the Antietam Creek made for an excellent defensive position, but it was far from impregnable. And if the line was broken, there was nowhere for the defenders to go. The position backed on the broad Potomac River, with only one small ford available if a sudden retreat was required, a ford which was utterly inadequate to permit more than a handful of men at a time to cross. If the Federals did break through, the Army of Northern Virginia would be caught in a trap from which there was no escape.

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