Maryland Almanac

December 30, 2007


Bloody histories: For Marylanders interested in learning more about the important role their state played in the Civil War, there is no better place to start than reading books assessing the bloody Battle of Antietam. Fought on Sept. 17, 1862, along Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, it was the war's first major battle to take place on Northern soil and was the bloodiest single-day struggle in American history, with almost 23,000 casualties. Union forces fought the Confederate invaders to a standstill, but gave President Abraham Lincoln the confidence to announce his Emancipation Proclamation, laying out plans to free all slaves in Confederate states. The most important features of the battlefield terrain are remarkably well preserved and well worth exploration. But there are a number of books worth reading before a visit:

Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, by James M. McPherson / Oxford University Press / 224 pages / $29.95. McPherson convincingly establishes Antietam as the conflict's pivotal moment militarily, politically and morally. Foreign nations were poised to recognize the Confederacy, and Lincoln had postponed his plans to liberate its slaves. With an election coming in November, demoralized Northern voters were in position to give control of Congress to a Democratic Party with a vocal peace wing. In Antietam's aftermath, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. France and Britain discreetly backed away from recognition. The Republicans kept control of Congress and of most state governments. The war was now the Union's to lose.

Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam, by Stephen W. Sears / Mariner Books / 464 pages / $17. A renowned historian, Sears draws on a remarkable cache of diaries, dispatches, and letters to recreate the vivid drama of Antietam as experienced not only by its leaders but by its soldiers, Union and Confederate.

Guide to the Battle of Antietam, by Jay Luvaas and Harold W. Nelson, editors / University Press of Kansas / 310 pages / $14.95. Eyewitness accounts by battle participants make this guide an invaluable resource for visitors seeking a greater understanding of this battle. Explicit directions to points of interest and maps help bring the battles to life.


Saturday, Jan. 26

John Edgar Wideman -- The award-winning author of more than 18 works of fiction and nonfiction, including Brothers and Keepers, Philadelphia Fire and God's Gym, will speak at 8:30 a.m. and noon at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, 700 Aliceanna St. Advance registration required. For tickets and information, call the Pratt Library Programs & Publications Office, 410-396-5494. Wideman's new novel, Fanon, evokes the life of the philosopher and political activist Frantz Fanon, author of The Wretched of the Earth. He teaches at Brown University.

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