Couple collaborate on 'So You Think You Know Antietam?' book

September 21, 2012
  • Sue and Jim Gindlesperger have written So You Think You Know Antietam? The Stories Behind Americas Bloodiest Day.
Submitted photo

Age: Jim is 71, Sue  is 64

City in which you reside: Johnstown, Pa.

Day job: Jim is safety manager at Carnegie Mellon University, Sue is a travel consultant at AAA

Book title: "So You Think You Know Antietam? The Stories Behind America's Bloodiest Day."

Genre: A reviewer of our Gettysburg book, after which the Antietam book was patterned, said that the book "wears many hats." Some have called it a photography book, others a book of battle trivia and some a travel guide. Our previous book, "So You Think You Know Gettysburg?" received the bronze award in ForeWord Reviews' 2010 Book of the Year Awards in the Travel Guide category, so that would probably be the best fit for "So You Think You Know Antietam?," as well.

Quick synopsis of book: "So You Think You Know Antietam?" reveals the stories behind Antietam's 96 monuments and discusses in detail the people, places and events that defined the battle. Ten color-coded chapters display nearly 300 color photos, maps and GPS coordinates of all monument locations for readers who plan to use "So You Think You Know Antietam?" as a guide on a visit to Antietam National Battlefield.

Publisher: John F. Blair, Publisher, Winston-Salem, N.C.

Price: $19.95

Editor's note: The Gindlespergers wrote these answers as a team.

You wrote a similar book, "So You Think You Know Gettysburg" about the Gettysburg National Military Park. Why Antietam?

There were actually a couple of things that got us interested. One, we've visited the area so many times that it was just natural that we thought of Antietam when we looked for another battlefield to write about. Also, it's not that far from our home, so it was easy to get to. But it is such a beautiful battlefield, if you can call a battlefield beautiful, that it is hard not to fall in love with the place. And for the casual visitor, the battle is easy to follow and understand, since it is actually three smaller and separate battles that took place throughout the day. And how can somebody not be interested in a battle that was the worst in our country's history from a casualty standpoint?

A lot of experts say "Write about what you know." Does that apply to your book? How?

It does, and that's good advice. We can't imagine writing about something that we didn't really know much about because the enthusiasm wouldn't be there. And unless you are enthusiastic about it, why do it in the first place? We have been visiting Civil War battlefields for more than 25 years, and Antietam is probably our second most visited place after Gettysburg. This is the second book we have worked on together, and Jim has written three others, two of which have won awards and one of which was featured on the Discovery Channel and was optioned by Warner Brothers. We both have ancestors who fought in the Civil War, and we were represented on both sides, although none fought at Antietam. So our love affair with Civil War battlefields was established a long time ago. But there is still so much we want to learn about it. It was a terrible time for our country, but a fascinating period nonetheless.

How long did it take you research the book?

We didn't really start out to write a book, so the research was pretty much what we accumulated over our many visits to Antietam. If we were to condense it into one solid time period, all together it probably took about a year of actual research. We already had the photos from the many times we had previously visited. We just added a few from more recent visits.

What do you think will surprise readers the most about Antietam?

There are so many little-known stories about the battle that most people probably haven't heard. We only know of them because of either our research or the fact that we accumulated these stories over the years. Some are amusing, some are poignant. But we find them all interesting.

 The story of the 51st Pennsylvania at the Burnside Bridge, or the unusual story behind the monument to the 132nd Pennsylvania at the Sunken Road, for instance. Or the story behind the National Cemetery and the controversy about burying Confederate soldiers there. Most people are unaware of the story concerning the boulder in the cemetery on which Robert E. Lee supposedly stood to observe the battle, and the surprising way the true story was revealed. 

The amazing survival story of Confederate General John B. Gordon is another one of our favorites, and there are so many more. Another thing that will surprise readers is that Antietam was the first battle that was presented to the public through photography. 

Today, we are so used to seeing photos from historical events that we take them for granted, but Andrew Gardner's photographic display was shocking to the people of 1862, who saw for the first time the horrors of war. Many readers may also be surprised to learn how the marginal Union victory at Antietam allowed Abraham Lincoln to issue his Emancipation Proclamation. This removed any chance the Confederacy had of getting recognition and assistance from European countries.

What surprised you the most about the battlefield?

I think we were a bit surprised at how easy it is to follow the fighting at Antietam, especially having been to other battlefields. Many of the larger battles are a little difficult to understand because so much was going on at so many different places at the same time that it takes a lot of study to really grasp what took place. At Antietam, on the other hand, the battlefield is so much smaller and the fighting was so segmented that it doesn't take long to understand what took place there. And, while it isn't really a surprise, Antietam is so peaceful now that it is hard to imagine what actually happened there 150 years ago. 

We were also surprised when we learned that many of the regiments were fighting in their first battle, something which undoubtedly contributed to the high casualty rate.

What was important for you to get across to the readers of your book?

At the risk of sounding like we are glorifying war, we would have to say that we want readers and visitors to understand the ferocity of the fighting. More than 23,000 Americans became casualties in only 12 hours of fighting. If you do the math, that's roughly one American casualty every two seconds for 12 solid hours. That's just mind-boggling. 

To put it into perspective, and again we don't want to sound like we are minimizing anything our ancestors did in World War II, there were nearly four times as many American casualties at Antietam as there were in the Normandy Invasion, and that fighting took place over a longer period of time. 

It is so easy to miss that message when you visit Antietam because, as we said, it is so pretty and so peaceful there now. We must not forget what happened there and we can't forget the men who fought on this battlefield. That's so important to us, simply that people remember.

If you only had an hour to visit Antietam, what three locations or monuments should a person visit to understand the battlefield?

I think most people would agree that the three must-see locations would have to be the Dunker Church, the Sunken Road, and Burnside Bridge. Seeing each of these and understanding what happened at each one would give the visitor a fairly decent overview of the battle.  Their visit wouldn't be complete, obviously, but it would give them a good start.

Are you working on another writing project?

Yes. Together we are working on a second volume of our Gettysburg book. Jim is also working on gathering material on the trial of Henry Wirz, the commandant of Andersonville Prison, and the only person to be hanged for war crimes during the Civil War.

Is your book available in the Tri-State area? Where? If not, how can a reader buy a copy of the book?

We haven't seen the listing of bookstores yet, but it will be available at most independent bookshops, chain stores like Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million, and online booksellers like Amazon, and

Store managers generally decide which books they will carry, so it may be that some won't have our book, but if that happens, most stores are usually able and willing to order the book for a customer.

— By Crystal Schelle, Lifestyle Editor

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