A fascinating and competent rundown of the basic history and politics centering on the Battle of Antietam from James M McPherson. I can’t really tell you much about the thesis of this book and the purpose or audience either, other than to say that the book wants to center Antietam for us in ways that many books spend time looking well past it. For one, most people focus on 1863 and 1864 as the real “meat” of the war, focusing so heavily on Grant’s western campaigns leading to him chasing down Lee in Virginia, and of course the Gettysburg and its effects on the war. As someone from Virginia, this has also been my main view from the bridge so to speak.
What stands out as important (without getting into the very very detailed analysis of Lincoln and McClellan, say like Richard Slotkin does in his Antietam book) is to highlight the up and down nature of the war, the ways in which public discourse, the media, and foreign diplomacy play into the importance of this sliver of the war. The other thing, that I thought about for the first time ever with this book, is how far west (very very relatively speaking) Antietam is in Maryland, compared to Washington Dc and Baltimore, which are much more in line with so much of the rest of the war. This book feels as much as filling in gaps in good ways on various elements of the battle. (It’s not really a battlefield analysis, so much as a book that wants to appropriately place the battle in context).