High-Water Mark, part eleven

Author Timothy Reese concludes High-Water Mark: The 1862 Maryland Campaign in Strategic Perspective with a recapitulation of his central arguments and some thoughts about the Lee and McClellan stereotypes.

For Reese, the Maryland Campaign marked the apex of Confederate prospects and Crampton's Gap was the acme of the Maryland Campaign:

Offensive fortune played itself out in five key points like a row of dominos, each in turn yielding to the inertial force of the one preceding it. Once set in motion, the sequence became irrevocable …

The five dominos are: (1) The lost dispatch is found (2) McClellan moves to divide and conquer at Crampton's Gap (3) Lee abandons South Mountain (4) The armies battle at Antietam (5) Lincoln drafts an emancipation document (five days after Antietam).

What begins as the outer ring of a bull's eye – Britain's military build-up in Canada – spirals inward toward the central event of the proclamation.

Gettysburg? It was the "monumental but macabre high-water mark of [the] Army of Northern Virginia" itself - not the prospects of the Confederacy.

The stock characters "Lee" and "McClellan," "predigested and pigeon-holed for easy consumption – cardboard stereotypes of real flesh and blood men" impede our understanding events. In fact, both operated out of the same matrix of "rights, honor, and respect … the operative words…" "In truth, we see that Lee and McClellan were actually made of similar stuff…"

As for the high-water mark of the Great Rebellion,

The Lost Order was its monolithic thunderclap of predestination, South Mountain its frantically heroic deadlock, Crampton's Gap both its triumphal and alarming pivot, Antietam its tragically thunderous climax. Prying open the door for Lincoln's proclamation, it reverberated at Northern polls and imposed silence in foreign halls.

Final thoughts tomorrow.