High-Water Mark, part eight

In going through Timothy Reese's new book High-Water Mark: The 1862 Maryland Campaign in Strategic Perspective, we've reached the sixth chapter which deals with tactical issues surrounding the battle.

Since every chapter in this book adds value to what we know about the Maryland Campaign, it may be worth distilling these points from Reese's view of that battle:

(1) Brigade commander Col. Joseph Bartlett essentially ran the Union's battle; he was the seniormost officer to personally reconnoitre; he remained on the scene throughout; and he deployed all three of Slocum's brigades in the battle, Slocum and Franklin minimizing their own involvement.

(2) Despite perceptions about flighty Georgians under Cobb, Cobb's outfit was instrumental in delaying entry into Pleasant Valley and allowing enough time for the Rebels to concentrate at Sharpsburg.

Reese makes other interesting points but the key to this chapter is that any telling of this battle from Franklin's and Munford's perspectives is distorting; Bartlett and Cobb are its heart.

The author also here comments on the importance of the battle, which is the subject of lengthier analysis in the next chapter. This is worth quoting at length:

Without fear of overstatement, Cobb's command held on just long enough, at great cost, to forestall Franklin's entry into Pleasant Valley that night. In this it can accurately be said that the Georgians just barely shouldered the door long enough for Lee to abandon his positions at Turner's and Fox's gaps and to begin his nocturnal retreat to Sharpsburg before Franklin could intervene...


Titanic tactical standoff that it was, Antietam most certainly accrued no significant war-winning [military] results beyond the expulsion of Lee's army ... Crampton's Gap, the sole clear-cut campaign victory, is the astounding exception to the rule [that size of battle matters], very much akin to Thermopylae (480 BC) or The Alamo (1836) as seen from Lee's perspective when it drove him to Sharpsburg, his "expedition" in ruins. At Antietam, neither Lee nor McClellan could then achieve the finality of a Salamis, a Plataea, or a San Jacinto. In this glaring Crampton's Gap instance, size didn't matter at all, but its impact was devastating.

We return to this book on Tuesday.