A Fierce Glory

Antietam--The Desperate Battle That Saved Lincoln and Doomed Slavery


By Justin Martin

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On September 17, 1862, the “United States” was on the brink, facing a permanent split into two separate nations. America’s very future hung on the outcome of a single battle–and the result reverberates to this day. Given the deep divisions that still rive the nation, given what unites the country, too, Antietam is more relevant now than ever.

The epic battle, fought near Sharpsburg, Maryland, was a Civil War turning point. The South had just launched its first invasion of the North; victory for Robert E. Lee would almost certainly have ended the war on Confederate terms. If the Union prevailed, Lincoln stood ready to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. He knew that freeing the slaves would lend renewed energy and lofty purpose to the North’s war effort. Lincoln needed a victory to save the divided country, but victory would come at a price. Detailed here is the cannon din and desperation, the horrors and heroes of this monumental battle, one that killed 3,650 soldiers, still the highest single-day toll in American history.

Justin Martin, an acclaimed writer of narrative nonfiction, renders this landmark event in a revealing new way. More than in previous accounts, Lincoln is laced deeply into the story. Antietam represents Lincoln at his finest, as the grief-racked president–struggling with the recent death of his son, Willie–summoned the guile necessary to manage his reluctant general, George McClellan. The Emancipation Proclamation would be the greatest gambit of the nation’s most inspired leader. And, in fact, the battle’s impact extended far beyond the field; brilliant and lasting innovations in medicine, photography, and communications were given crucial real-world tests. No mere gunfight, Antietam rippled through politics and society, transforming history.

A Fierce Glory is a fresh and vibrant account of an event that had enduring consequences that still resonate today.



As Alexander Gardner was developing this photograph, the delicate, glass-plate negative cracked. But the photographer recognized that he’d captured something extraordinary, a Lincoln portrait that revealed his essential humanity like nothing else. The cracked plate only added to the image’s power, evoking the president’s struggles to reunite a fractured nation.


Antietam battlefield, here

Antietam and area, 1862, here

Lincoln’s daily commute, here


John Mead Gould spent a single day at Antietam. The battle consumed him for the rest of his life.

On September 17, 1862, Gould fought on the Union side as a lieutenant with the 10th Maine. Pandemonium reigned in the close confines of the Western Maryland valley where the battle took place. So many soldiers fired so many weapons with such urgency that the field was soon shrouded in smoke. The air swam thick with projectiles; the sheer volume of noise was overwhelming. Cannon rumbled; bullets zinged. There were the shrieks of falling men, the whinnies of falling horses.

In a matter of minutes, a quarter of Gould’s regiment (71 of 277 men) went down, wounded or killed. General Joseph Mansfield stumbled past, his coat flapping open to reveal a crimson bloom spreading across his abdomen. Gould helped him from the field. The general soon slipped out of this world. As Gould would recall: “how mighty easy it was to get killed or wounded that day.”

He felt fortunate to escape such a fate. Antietam would forever hold the distinction as his most intense, most terrifying battle, even though he would fight in many others and would remain in the army until the end of the Civil War.

Afterward, Gould went back to his hometown of Portland, Maine. Before enlisting, he’d worked as a bank teller. He returned to his old job and remained for the rest of his working life, receiving a single promotion—to cashier. Along the way, Gould got married and raised three children. He taught in Sunday school, amassed a collection of buttons. Antietam never strayed far from his thoughts.

He wrote letters to his fellow Union soldiers, seeking to plumb their memories, hoping to resolve lingering mysteries. What enemy regiments had fired on his Maine boys on that fateful day? What were the exact spots where his various comrades went down? Where did General Mansfield fall?

As the years passed, the old hostilities faded. Gould began to write to his one-time adversaries. On the subject of Antietam, he found them even more expansive than his Union comrades. “Confederates are the better correspondents,” he noted. Gould made repeated visits to the battlefield, sometimes even walking the grounds in the company of graying former Rebels. On one visit, he was able to “snap a little kodak,” a testament to changing times, the passage of the years. On another visit, he stayed for an entire week, ceaselessly walking the field, trying to make sense of that now-distant day.

Some mysteries he managed to solve. Gould grew confident that he had identified the precise spot (near a distinctive boulder) where General Mansfield fell. Other questions would dog him to his grave. “Those things make me lie awake at night,” he once stated.

Gould passed away on January 1, 1930, aged ninety, at his house on Pearl Street, the same one he’d lived in as a boy. Although seven decades removed from Antietam, he’d ever remained in its thrall.

Gould was far from alone in his obsession. After all, he was only one among the multitude who fought at Antietam; many a man would relive this day for the rest of his years. This particular battle was simply different from others: more heated, more savage, more consequential.

At Antietam, over the course of a single day—still the most lethal in American history—the death toll for the combined Union and Confederate forces was more than 3,500 men. This dwarfed everything that had come before. Such landmark Revolutionary War battles as Saratoga and Yorktown routinely resulted in fewer than 100 deaths among the Colonials. The entire War of 1812 (which, belying its name, stretched over nearly three years) produced 2,200 US fatalities, a lower number than occurred during a mere twelve hours at Antietam. Even such days of infamy as Pearl Harbor and September 11 saw fewer Americans killed.

But Antietam was a desperate contest; that’s why the death toll wound up so high. The battle occurred during an especially demoralizing stretch for the Union, filled with military losses, one coming fast on another. The Confederacy had grown increasingly bold, to the point of marauding into Maryland. This was the war’s first Southern incursion into Northern territory. Achieve victory here, and the Rebel army could storm across the Union, striking who-knows-where—Philadelphia, Baltimore, even Washington, DC. No place would be safe. “Jeff Davis will proclaim himself Pres’t of the U.S.,” panicked a New Yorker. “The last days of the Republic are near.”

Even if an attack on a major city didn’t immediately follow, a Confederate victory promised to create havoc in the North, politically and otherwise. The Rebel plan was to sow chaos and more chaos, though some of the ploys were remarkably subtle. For example, a Union loss at Antietam might prompt skittish Northerners to vote Lincoln’s Republican Party out of Congress. In would sweep the Democrats, a conservative party circa 1862, and one that might be more amenable to a negotiated settlement of the war. Perhaps a Democrat-controlled Congress would bypass Lincoln, inviting the Confederacy to rejoin the Union, slavery intact. It’s no accident that Antietam happened in September: a primary goal was to disrupt the Union’s midterm elections, only weeks away.

But this represented only one in a range of possible bad outcomes envisioned by the Rebels. By invading Maryland, the Confederacy had cooked up a diabolically clever scheme. Victory at Antietam promised to open up a number of different routes to the same outcome: an end to the war, substantially on Southern terms.

While the North may have been down, it could not be counted out. In the event that the Union won the battle, Lincoln was standing by with a sly secret plan of his own, what he referred to as his “last card.”

The stage was set for an epic showdown.

I’ve chosen to tell this story in a different way, avoiding minutely detailed descriptions of troop movements (a standard feature of so many battle accounts) in favor of rendering a larger picture.

As such, I’ve also chosen to weave Lincoln more deeply into the narrative. Existing Antietam titles tend to go light on Lincoln. After all, the president was in Washington during the fighting—offstage, as it were. Nevertheless, he anxiously awaited news, any news, out of Western Maryland. If the Union somehow eked out a victory, managed to break its losing streak, Lincoln was prepared to play that final card, issuing his Emancipation Proclamation. Declaring enslaved people free in the regions still in rebellion could be expected to shake the Confederacy. It might invest the Union war effort with a new and nobler purpose.

September 17, 1862, was a day of high drama both on the battlefield and in Washington. Thus, I’ve elected to cut back and forth between the two locales. While my account covers the fighting in full, attending to Antietam’s legendary (and horrific) sites of conflict, including the Cornfield, Bloody Lane, and Burnside Bridge, the story also circles back to the president.

Threading Lincoln more thoroughly into the tale also sets up revealing contrasts between the president and the commanders of the respective armies: the Union’s George McClellan and Robert E. Lee for the Confederacy. Together, these three men form a dramatic triangle. Naturally, the rival generals felt an antipathy for one another. But Lincoln also stood in opposition to both. Ironically, for a victory at Antietam, Lincoln was dependent on McClellan, a Democrat who held him in withering contempt. Only a few months earlier, the impertinent general had gone so far as to demand that the president keep his “radical views” on slavery out of the war effort.

As for Lee, the contrast with Lincoln is stark. The Virginia-born general and Indiana-bred president make for perfect foils. Nevertheless, standard Antietam books attend to Lee almost exclusively as a military leader. The focus tends to be on Lee as brilliant battlefield tactician (oh, was he ever!), while the thorny issue of Lee-as-slaveholder gets conveniently ignored. Lee’s views on the so-called peculiar institution as well as his treatment of his own slaves belongs in any modern take on this nineteenth-century event.

Clearly, Antietam’s outcome resonated far beyond the field. The battle was even a proving ground for some world-changing ideas in such areas as medicine and photography. Antietam was the first genuine test for Union doctor-in-chief Jonathan Letterman and his notions about how to deliver faster, better care to wounded soldiers. Yes, the death toll was staggering; were it not for Letterman’s innovations, it would have been even higher. Likewise, this was the first engagement in which Clara Barton realized her ambition of going directly to the treacherous front lines and rendering aid to soldiers in need. For her heroism at Antietam, she earned the sobriquet that would stick with her for the rest of her life: “Angel of the Battlefield.” Meanwhile, Alexander Gardner took a series of photographs that was nothing short of revolutionary, expanding the art form, forever changing the way the public perceived warfare.

Indeed: as America’s bloodiest day, as a battle with enormous military and political stakes, as a crucible for bold new ideas, as a watershed event involving such towering figures of the age as Lincoln and Lee, as the occasion for the Emancipation Proclamation—for all these good reasons—Antietam was a more critical battle than Gettysburg. Yes, Gettysburg receives more glory. Lee’s second incursion into the North precipitated a marathon three-day contest that broke the Confederacy. After Gettysburg, the Rebels never again posed a substantial offensive threat, never really recovered, although the Civil War would slog along for another two years.

However, the case for Antietam is simple and irrefutable. Had its outcome been different, there would have been no Gettysburg.

Lastly, a note on sources: More than 100,000 soldiers were present at Antietam and sometimes it seems that every last one of them provided a written account. The result is an embarrassment of research riches: letters, diaries, articles, books, regimental histories, and official battlefield reports written by officers. I drew on these sources generously. Some of them furnished details and information that is published here for the very first time. In the story that follows, whenever you encounter a quotation, or a description of a regiment charging up a hillside, or even a seemingly picayune detail, such as the manner in which a soldier fell after being struck by a musket ball—it comes from this vast trove of sources.

I’m especially indebted to Colonel Ezra Ayers Carman, who fought at Antietam with the 13th New Jersey. As an obsessive battle chronicler, he outranks even John Mead Gould. Carman also spent his entire postwar life corresponding with former soldiers, both Union and Confederate. He drew on these exchanges to create a series of fourteen maps, invaluable to anyone seeking to understand the way the battle unfolded. He also wrote an 1,800-page account of the day’s fighting, only recently published after sitting for decades in the Library of Congress. Carman’s pioneering work is the point of departure for any student of the battle.

I also made numerous trips to Antietam National Battlefield, considered one of the most meticulously preserved Civil War sites. So much of what was there that September day in 1862 remains intact today: farmhouses and cornfields, bridges and country lanes, even so-called witness trees (trees that were alive during the battle). Walking the field in the company of a series of supremely knowledgeable guides brought history vividly to life for me. It proved essential to the task of recreating this harrowing and momentous battle.




It was the small hours of a late-summer night. Light drizzle was falling. Cloud cover blotted out the moon and stars. Facing each other, separated only by a short stretch of utter darkness, were two hushed armies.

Soldiers from both sides lay upon the hard ground, out in the open, without tents. Already, they were arranged in tight battle formation. That’s how they slept—those who managed sleep—shoes off, uniform on, or at least partially so, loaded muskets tucked at easy reach beside them, prepared to spring into action at daybreak. Some were lucky enough to have bedrolls, providing modest cover against the elements. Others stretched out on the damp earth.

Because a campfire is a deadly giveaway, none burned. A scattered few had been lit at nightfall by Confederate soldiers in fortunate positions, on the lee side of little knolls, shielded from the enemy. By this late hour, though, the last embers of these fires had died out. The world had been whittled down, leaving only this: a pair of fearful and recumbent armies in a night so black that, as one soldier marveled, “you could make a hole in the darkness with your finger.”

Hunger was a given. Earlier in the evening, many of the troops had eaten modest uncooked dinners—apples and corn the standard Rebel fare, and for Federals, salted beef and hardtack, a biscuit as stale as it was bland. One Union regiment had been reduced to a meal of dry coffee grounds and sugar, taken in small pinches like chewing tobacco. Some Rebels had eaten less than that.

The damp air conveyed the smell of clover trampled underfoot—a home scent that should have brought comfort. But the sense of foreboding hung too heavy. Earlier, there had been none of the usual camp jollity, no antics or sing-alongs or stories spun out in leisure. Soldiers had used the final glimmerings of daylight to write letters to parents and sweethearts. With nightfall, the men clung to their last sightings of the enemy—much too close. In the darkness, crouched officers moved from soldier to soldier, seeking out green recruits and those they’d identified as potential problems. The officers whispered reassurance, but also, through clenched teeth, hissed stern commands: Do not bolt from the ranks tomorrow! Don’t you dare let down your fellow soldiers!

An entire Union division marched to the ammo wagons in the middle of the night to pick up eighty rounds. That was twice the normal allotment, doled out with a telling somberness. This was no ordinary night of campaigning. For the veterans, it bore little relation to previous eves of battle. Some soldiers had fallen into fitful sleep, while others lay awake, minds racing. “When was the fight to begin? How long would it last? Who would win?” wondered Thomas Livermore of the 5th New Hampshire. “Was I to be killed, to be torn with a shell, or pierced with a bullet? What was death? How quickly should I be in the other world if I were killed?”

The night was filled with odd sounds and unexplained happenings—portents maybe. A Union soldier tripped over a pet dog sleeping beside its owner, then lurched into a stand of muskets. The stand collapsed with a clatter. It was like a stone hitting the calm surface of a pond, as ripples of anxiety traveled outward then outward. For both sides, there was such a palpable sense of presence, as if untold thousands of enemy soldiers had merged in the darkness into a single hulking entity, breathing, watchful, and horrifyingly aware.

In the small hours, a dreamy sense of unreality set in. Entire combat corps arrived from god-knows-where and tromped in columns among the reclining soldiers, searching out their spots in the next day’s battle scheme. These late arrivals had been instructed to muffle their canteens and other metal objects to avoid making noise. No matter: amid the quiet, thousands of marching footfalls sufficed, creating the din of a rolling avalanche. Yet the uneasy stillness always returned. Soon the pickets, standing watch in forward positions, could once again hear the enemy’s whispers, even make out the words. Sometimes the tension grew too great. A picket would open fire, muzzle flashing. A shot might be fired in return. But these little exchanges quickly died out. There was no sense shooting into pitch blackness.

Deep into the night—so deep that no one could even place the hour with certainty—some Rebel horses grew spooked and broke free from their ropes. The animals stomped and whinnied, then ran in maddened circles as soldiers tried to corral them, before breaking for the rear and galloping off across the darkened countryside.

And then—all too soon—the first faint hint of daylight appeared. It was roughly 5:45 A.M. A Rebel artillery team at Nicodemus Heights used the paltry glow to home in on a Federal position, then sent a cannon shell arcing across the dawn sky.

The two opposing armies, it turns out, were arrayed against each other in a broad and beautiful valley. The location was Western Maryland: incredibly, Confederates had undertaken an invasion of the North. The valley was about twenty miles in width, its western border formed by Appalachian peaks, obscure in the distance. Nearer loomed the valley’s other border, South Mountain, a purplish hump in the hazy dawn. From here, the land sloped gradually down, moving through gentle undulations, forming little hollows and hillocks, as if South Mountain was melting across the valley floor. The morning was cool, about 65 degrees, although the temperature would rise by about 10 degrees as the day drew on. The air was moist and close, thanks to the previous night’s drizzle. Little wisps of fog gathered in the low-lying areas.

Meandering through the landscape was the Antietam, still anonymous for another few hours, just a simple creek blessedly free of any larger significance or associations. Its water assumed a deep green hue in the overcast dawn; its movement seemed languid, though this could be deceptive. “Antietam” means “swift flowing water” in the language of the Delaware Indians. Its banks, rising in some spots at a severe pitch, were thickly grown with silver maple, sycamore, and witch hazel. The Antietam wended across the valley floor, spanned by a series of stone bridges, before emptying into the Potomac, which formed the border between Maryland and Virginia.

This was farm country, some of the finest on the continent. In geological terms, the valley is what’s known as a karst, a stretch of land undergirded by eroding limestone and shot through with subterranean springs. In practical terms, this meant a ready water supply, nutrient-rich soil, and crops growing in near-biblical abundance. Large stone houses, home to prosperous farmers, dotted the countryside, their spreads staked out by wooden zigzag fences. On this September morning, the wheat had been harvested and the fields lay in stubble. Some of the corn had been harvested, too, while select fields stood man-high and nearly ripe. Most farmers set aside an acre or so as orchards, furnishing peaches for preserves and apples for cider. These fruits were plump and ready to pick. Crisscrossing the countryside were turnpikes and farm lanes, including the remnants of the Great Wagon Road, which had stretched during the early 1700s from Philadelphia to Augusta, Georgia. The presence of good roads, necessary in peacetime to transport the region’s agricultural bounty to market, was one of the reasons that in wartime, two armies had converged in the area.

Situated on a plateau about halfway between Antietam Creek and the Potomac was Sharpsburg, also enjoying its final moments of being unknown to a larger world. The town was ninety-nine years old, founded before the Revolution, and named after Horatio Sharpe, a governor of colonial Maryland. During its earliest days, Sharpsburg had entertained dreams of grandeur. In 1790, the town fathers wrote a couple letters to President Washington, touting the six good springs and twenty-one wells, making it ideally suited to serve as capital of the fledgling nation. More recently, the biggest diversion was a public examination of Sunday school students, held each winter. Sharpsburg was laid out in a simple grid, consisting of eight streets, including Main Street, High Street, and one with no name at all. Its 1,300 residents included masons, millers, potters, broom makers, and glassblowers.

The citizens of this section of Western Maryland (both the Sharpsburg townfolk and the farmers in the surrounding countryside) were of varied heritages, with ancestors hailing from England, Scotland, France, and Switzerland. Irish workers had built a stretch of the C&O Canal near Sharpsburg, and many had decided to settle in the area after the job was done. A number of the farmers were of German stock. Among them were some belonging to a religious sect called the German Baptist Brethren, also known as Dunkers. The name stemmed from their belief in total-immersion baptism, a practice that had invited persecution in the Old Country, driving them to emigrate in search of religious freedom. The Dunkers were modest in dress, abstemious in habits; they refused all alcohol, opposed slavery, and were unwavering pacifists. In the New World, they conducted their full-on baptisms in Antietam Creek without incident.

For all the diversity, however, the citizens shared one thing in common. Almost none were present on this Wednesday morning. The previous Sunday, there had been fighting in the passes that run through South Mountain. During services, the boom of cannon had rattled church walls and shaken the congregations. Then, over the past few days, residents had looked on fearfully as the two huge armies staked out positions in their valley. This had served as fair warning. As the countryside had filled up with soldiers, it had emptied of civilians. Almost everyone had fled to safer spots.

Samuel Poffenberger, owner of eight horses, had wrapped feed sacks around their hoofs, the better to muffle their footfalls, then hidden them away in his cellar. Joseph and Sarah Sherrick had hidden $3,000 worth of gold in a stone wall on their land. Then, these and other farmers had made arrangements to wait out the battle in other locations. The Mumma family, husband Samuel, wife Elizabeth, and ten children, sought refuge in a church about five miles north of Sharpsburg. Left behind, their chickens, hogs, and sheep had free run of their 186-acre farm. A number of residents were hiding out in the Killiansburg Cave near the C&O Canal.

Still, a handful of people, for whatever reason, decided to stay put. An old couple who had lived in Sharpsburg all their lives concluded they had no place else to go. If they were to die here, so be it. The morning found the Kretzer family, with five children, huddled in the basement of their large house on Main Street, along with a number of their neighbors.

Even as that inaugural Rebel shell continued on its path, a Union artillery team sent its opening salvo arcing through the dawn sky.

From high in the air, from a shell’s-eye view, it would have been possible to get a fuller picture of the two opposing armies. As a consequence of having a larger force, about 55,000 men, the Union front was longer, arrayed north to south over the countryside for about three miles. (By midday, an additional 16,000 Federals would arrive on the battlefield.) The Confederate force was considerably smaller, roughly 35,000, and these men were arranged along a front that also stretched north to south, for about two miles. Because the Union force was larger, it curved around the Rebel front, pressing down on it, threatening.

From the air, the two armies would have looked a bit like a pair of upside-down J’s, the smaller one representing the Rebels.

The troop placement represented the strategic cerebrations of the opposing commanding generals, the Union’s George McClellan, and for the Confederates, Robert Lee. Newspapers had only just started using his middle initial, a practice he never much cared for. It was still early in the war, and the two men hadn’t yet hardened in the public imagination into the myth-bound figures that they would become.

Over the preceding days and hours, McClellan and Lee had arranged their combat units with obsessive care. Although the reality of battle was about to shatter their every plan and assumption, here at the outset a kind of balance had been achieved. The Rebels were the invaders, yet they were in a defensive position. They possessed the smaller force, yet it was more experienced; more than half of Lee’s men had been in at least three major battles, while McClellan’s army brimmed with green recruits. Lee, drawing on his engineering experience, had also staked out the superior higher ground, along the ridges running to the east of Sharpsburg. Over much of the field, winding Antietam Creek lay before the Confederates, providing a barrier to Yankee attack. Several miles to the rear was a spot for fording across the Potomac, an exit route back into Virginia if needed.


  • "A colorful, deft, beautifully paced account of the bloodiest battle in American history. Justin Martin carefully tends Antietam's 'glowing embers,' approaching the day on the ground and from every angle."--Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Cleopatra and The Witches
  • "More than the repulse of a Confederate invasion, the Union victory at Antietam paved the way for black freedom--thus proving, in its way, the most important battle of the Civil War. Appropriately, A Fierce Glory is more than a military history (although it depicts the actual fighting vividly). Martin has culled a vast array of sources to explore the political, religious, medical, and, ultimately, the societal impact of Antietam. A highly original work."--Harold Holzer, winner of the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize
  • "What an achievement! Both panoramic and intimate in scale, it situates Antietam within the context of Civil War history but also takes the reader in close, face to face with the personal reality of 19th century warfare."--Amanda Vaill, author of Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War
  • "With a great eye for colorful detail, Martin has pulled off the feat of contextualizing the battle for a general audience. I learned something new on every page--not just about Lincoln, McClellan, and Lee, but about medical pioneers Clara Barton and Jonathan Letterman, photographer Alexander Gardner, and the fates of average soldiers on both sides. An absorbing read."--Jonathan Alter, New York Times bestselling author of The Promise: President Obama, Year One
  • "Martin has given us an engrossing, important new look at Antietam, making a convincing case that the outcome had more impact on the course of the war, and on U.S. history, than any other Civil War engagement."--Marc Leepson, author of Desperate Engagement: How a Little-Known Civil War Battle Saved Washington, D.C., and Changed American History
  • "Martin takes you to the fabled Antietam battlefield in an engagingly written 'you are there' style that has you virtually feeling the bullets whizzing above your head. This is no dry military history or conventional Civil War book but a riveting group biography that delves into the hearts and minds of a number of colorful, larger-than-life characters, all of it placed in the context of the fateful deliberations of Lincoln over issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. A tour de force."--John Oller, author of The Swamp Fox and American Queen
  • "In this succinct, highly readable book, spiced with telling anecdotes and vivid character sketches, Martin seamlessly interweaves a clear, suspenseful account of the battle with a careful depiction of Lincoln's road to emancipation."--Michael Burlingame, award-winning Lincoln scholar and author of Lincoln: A Life (2 vols.)
  • "Martin is at his best relating the intersection of the experiences of individual soldiers and the places in which they found themselves as the battle progressed...A readable introduction for those unfamiliar with this crucial battle."—Library Journal
  • "If you're looking for an Antietam book with minute-by-minute movements of regiments and brigades, look elsewhere-this isn't a 'right-flank, left-flank' account. Instead, you'll find an exquisite, compelling narrative, with Martin serving as your tour guide at the Bloody Lane, the West Woods, the 40-Acre Cornfield and elsewhere...Unlike other Antietam books, Abraham Lincoln...is deeply embedded in the narrative."—John Banks' Civil War Blog
  • "Not only does one get the story of the battle but also that of Lincoln and his Proclamation...It is highly readable and captures the drama of our bloodiest single day and its momentous result."—New York Journal of Books
  • "In A Fierce Glory author Justin Martin well portrays the horror of Civil War combat from the common soldier's perspective. His deft human touch, evident throughout the narrative, makes for a complete sensory experience."—Wall Street Journal
  • "In a war that redefined carnage, Antietam stands out...Martin does not miss any key elements of the battle, nor does he neglect the larger social and political undertones...A multi-faceted story that brings to bear a range of emotions surrounding the complicated events depicted...Anyone seeking a fresh telling of the human cost, anyone questing for larger meaning within this particularly bloody Civil War battle, will find A Fierce Glory to be a worthwhile read."—Washington Independent Review of Books
  • "A Fierce Glory accommodates perspectives largely absent from older accounts of the Civil War, including the multi-ethnicity of both armies and the presence in the ranks of several women passing as men."
    Milwaukee Shepherd-Express
  • "Martin avoids clinical military assessments and instead imbues the story of Antietam with small personal details about the very real people-from private to president-whose fates changed with the outcome...Martin argues intriguingly that the Union victory-snatched from stalemate only by the eventual Confederate retreat-served as the true turning point of the war...Novelistic prose, supported by thorough documentation and photos, packs an additional wallop, bringing home the battle's high human cost...Martin's fantastic recreation of this significant battle, with its focus on humanity, will resonate with both Civil War novices and more knowledgeable readers."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • "Martin has written a personal and approachable book about the great and terrible Battle of Antietam. His narrative style is breezy and conversational, quite different from the usual voice on this subject, but with it he successfully interprets some important political and military themes for a general-reader audience...A new and different take on the Battle of Antietam."—Antietam on the Web
  • "Almost every angle imaginable on the Civil War has been studied and yet authors continue to bring forth different perspectives. This is the case with Justin Martin's A Fierce Glory...[An] excellent book that looks at the Battle of Antietam from a different angle."
    Collected Miscellany
  • "Although there are many books on the Battle of Antietam, this one stands out for its superb use of first-hand participant accounts. The author weaves the broader story of the battle into the work in a seamless manner...In addition, the far-ranging consequences of the battle are discussed at length. The result is a work that engages readers and retains their interest page after page...A worthy addition to the works available on Antietam and the American Civil War."—Military Heritage

On Sale
Sep 11, 2018
Page Count
336 pages
Da Capo Press

Justin Martin

About the Author

Justin Martin is the author of several books, with his two most recent titles covering Civil War-era subjects. Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians, selected as the outstanding biography of 2014 by the Victoria Society, New York, and as a finalist for the Marfield Prize, was also picked as one of the best books of that year by both the Kansas City Star and Choice magazine. Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted was also met with many plaudits and glowing reviews nationally. Martin lives with his wife and twin sons in Forest Hills Gardens, New York.

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