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Military history author speaks about Maryland campaign

September 12, 2009|By MARIE GILBERT

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- It was the autumn of 1862, and Gen. Robert E. Lee was on the move.

Pointing his Confederate army toward Maryland, he decided to divide his forces -- sending some to Harpers Ferry while he headed to South Mountain to spar with Union Gen. George B. McClellan.

Eventually, battle lines were drawn along Antietam Creek. And in the misty dawn of Sept. 17, Union artillery crashed into a cornfield where rebel soldiers crouched.

"Again and again, the field was lost and recovered, until the green corn that grew upon it looked as if it had been struck by a storm of bloody hail," a survivor recalled.

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Fighting surged down a sunken wagon road -- Bloody Lane -- and across a stone span known today as Burnside Bridge.

When it was over, more than 23,000 lay wounded or dead -- the bloodiest day of the Civil War.

This weekend, as well as Thursday, Antietam National Battlefield is marking the 147th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam with a variety of activities, including ranger-led tours, artillery firing demonstrations, hikes and period music.

The schedule also features several guest speakers discussing various aspects of the war.

Saturday afternoon, the podium belonged to Joseph Glatthaar, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also is an author who specializes in military history.

About 50 people gathered at the battlefield's Visitor Center to hear Glatthaar's talk, which focused on "The Army of Northern Virginia in the Maryland Campaign" -- a subject with which he's familiar. His most recent book is "General Lee's Army: Victory to Collapse."

Lee decided to take his army into enemy territory for a number of reasons, Glatthaar said.

Many Confederates personally had witnessed the destruction by Union troops on their own soil and wanted revenge. Others believed that if northerners felt the horrors of war, they would be glad to have it end.

Glatthaar said Lee anticipated a great abundance of grain and livestock if he crossed into Maryland and Pennsylvania -- items his troops desperately needed. Importantly, he hoped a northern invasion would damage the Lincoln administration and have a substantial effect on the next election.

The Confederates' march into Maryland was not met with the enthusiasm some expected, Glatthaar said. In Western Maryland, for instance, they were met with a chilly reception.

Glatthaar painted Lee's army as courageous men who, at the same time, could be undisciplined.

Straggling, he said, was one of the biggest problems in Lee's army, with many men deserting and returning home.

The taste for fighting on enemy soil diminished among some soldiers not long after Antietam, with one Confederate writing he was happy to be back on Virginia soil.

"I don't believe fighting will ever bring peace," he said.

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