Friday, May 20, 2011

Book Review--The Battle of South Mountain

Hoptak, John David. The Battle of South Mountain. The History Press, Charleston, SC. 2011. 221 pages, 182 pages text, index, bibliography, notes, Order of Battle, b/w photos, maps. ISBN 9781596294011, $21.99.

The Battle of South Mountain (MD)Before the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam to the majority of readers) armies led by Generals George McClellan and Robert E. Lee met at a series of mountain passes known as South Mountain.

Antietam interpretive park ranger John D. Hoptak starts his wonderful book with an introduction to Robert E. Lee's first foray north of the Potomac River. Lee had approximately 70,000 men and enjoyed the numerical edge over George McClellan's army. Instead of the planned upon success Lee had many issues to deal with: his army was tired, food was scarce, straggling troops, and a lukewarm reception at best by Maryland citizens.

Ultimately the Battle of South Mountain was really three battles to control mountain passes: Fox's Gap, Frostown and Turner Gaps, and Crampton Gap. The battle that took place at Crampton Gap was a key in McClellan's failed attempt to free the troops held in siege by Stonewall Jackson at Harper's Ferry. Each of these is given a full chapter treatment that more than adequately covers the battle there.

Mr. Hoptak shows us the Union forces fighting hard and aggresively as they slowly beat back the Confederates who had held the higher ground. At the end of a long day of fighting Union troops succeeded in pushing the Confederates off the mountain and forced them into retreat. All was not rosy however as the follow up to this victory did not take place as planned. Despite Union efforts, Jackson was still able to receive a surrender from the troops at Harper's Ferry. Afterwards Jackson was ordered north eventually meeting up with James Longstreet and D.H. Hill at a town called Sharpsburg near the Antietam Creek. The bloody fighting there has overshadowed South Mountain for nearly 150 years.

While there have been other works dealing with South Mountain John Hoptak has written a book that will surely appeal to many interested in the Civil War. His writing is clear and the research thorough. The bibliography is a nice mixture of primary and secondary sources. I would be remiss not to mention the maps produced by Mannie Gentile. Hand drawn, these are not the standard maps you may be used to but rather delicately produced works that add to the book tremendously. Part of the History Press Civil War Sesquicentennial Series this is a book that should be in any Civil War library and without doubt must be owned by anybody interested in the Maryland Campaign.

Be sure to click on the links associated with John and Mannie's names to visit their excellent blogs. For further information click here to read an interview with John conducted on the Civil War Trust site.

Thank you to the good folks at The History Press for providing a review copy.

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