Civil War historian who visited Lourdes writing second bookWritten by Danielle Stanton | | firstname.lastname@example.org
On Sept. 17, 1862, the Confederate Army and the Army of the Potomac met at Antietam Creek near the village of Sharpsburg. By day’s end, 26,000 men would lay dead or wounded.
The Battle of Antietam is considered a draw, but is remembered as the single most bloodiest day in American history, said historian D. Scott Hartwig, who recently gave a talk on the subject in Sylvania.
Hartwig, who has been featured on TV, radio and in print and was a Gettysburg historian for 34 years, spoke at Lourdes College on March 20. His 808-page book by John Hopkins University Press, “To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of 1862,” leaves off right before the big battle.
Lourdes history professor Dwayne Beggs brought Hartwig to the Lourdes campus after connecting with him in Gettysburg. Beggs called Hartwig an “incredible scholar” who paints word pictures.
“He knows how to take you across the battlefield and smell the smoke,” Beggs said. “You want to tour with that guy. When I went on a battlefield walk with him, I could smell the campfire smoke, I could hear the [soldiers] moaning. He can paint an incredible word picture.”
In a telephone interview with Toledo Free Press, Hartwig discussed events that lead up to the battle.
In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln, having lost at the Battle of Manassas, put in command General George B. McClellan, Hartwig said.
To the south, Lee’s army had several options open to him; one was to invade the north. He knew that Maryland was a strong union state and that although it was a slave state, there were not many slaves living there, Hartwig said.
Lee’s purposes were not to claim enemy territory, but to draw the union forces out of Washington D.C., he said.
The southern general knew that if he could win a victory in Maryland or Pennsylvania, he could turn the upcoming Congressional Election of 1862, he said. Lee hoped to oust liberal-leaning Republicans with conservative, pro-slavery Democrats who would call for an armistice, putting an end to the war, he said.
Lee was essentially fighting a political war with military means, Hartwig said.
As McClellan’s troops left Washington, D.C., in the beginning of what would be called the Maryland Campaign, Lee crossed the Potomac and attempted to capture Harper’s Ferry, the location of a union garrison, in Maryland.
Although Lincoln and McClellan did not have a good history together, Lincoln needed McClellan to win a victory in order to issue his Emancipation Proclamation, ordering all slaves free people.
McClellan doesn’t think Lincoln should have issued his proclamation as a war claim because he believed it would make the south fight harder, Hartwig said.
“There’s a lot of ironies to the campaign,” he said.
As Lee attempted to capture Harper’s Ferry, union forces found a package that turned out to be what’s called Special Orders 191, or a copy of orders of Confederate troop movement, which led to the Battle of South Mountain and the siege of Harper’s Ferry.
Union forces at Harper’s Ferry surrendered Sept. 15 to the Confederates and Lee’s army was ordered to concentrate at Sharpsburg.
Why did Lee decide to fight a battle there?
“We’re never going to know Lee’s reasons,” Hartwig said. “Politics enter into this and Lee’s style as a commander. … He was an opportunist, an aggressive opportunist.”
The Battle of Antietam convinced most people that the Civil War would not be resolved easily, that it would be a tough fight, Hartwig said. And, even more importantly, it allowed Lincoln to claim a victory. Four days later, he issued his Emancipation Proclamation.
“In 1862, the war was still early. There still had been horrible battles, but people held out hope that reason was going to prevail, and the heart wasn’t in it for the Southerners,” Hartwig said. “Antietam was like the nail in the coffin. The South was interested and it was a majority of people in the south, and they were going to fight to get their independence, and it wasn’t going to be an easy fight.”
Antietam was also a “huge turning point” in the war, Hartwig said. The battle gave the union a higher purpose. Before, soldiers were fighting to save the union, but now they were fighting for their fellow man’s freedom.
“Even though there were union soldiers who were furious about the Emancipation Proclamation — it was a racist society — most union solders came around to understand the necessity of the Emancipation Proclamation,” Hartwig said. “They realized: ‘If we don’t do it now, we’re going to have to do it later.’
“Because these soldiers came from small towns, they had never seen slavery and many had never seen black people before,” he continued. “Now they’re meeting black people during the war; it changed their opinions of slavery.”
Hartwig retired from the Gettysburg National Military Park as a supervisory park historian in January 2014. He spent 34 years in Gettysburg. His primary job was to plan the public history program there, including the historical interpretive programs on the battlefield and around the park. He was also involved in creating the Gettysburg Visitor’s Center.
He’s currently working on his next book, a companion to his first. The second book, with a planned finish date of 2017, takes off where the first one left of on the night before the battle of Antietam.
“I don’t know that there is any other event in American history that has had such a profound involvement on who we are than the Civil War,” Hartwig said. “It’s gigantic.”