The Long Road to Antietam: How the Civil War Became a Revolution
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In the summer of 1862, after a year of protracted fighting, Abraham Lincoln decided on a radical change of strategy—one that abandoned hope for a compromise peace and committed the nation to all-out war. The centerpiece of that new strategy was the Emancipation Proclamation: an unprecedented use of federal power that would revolutionize Southern society. In The Long Road to Antietam, Richard Slotkin, a renowned cultural historian, reexamines the challenges that Lincoln encountered during that anguished summer 150 years ago. In an original and incisive study of character, Slotkin re-creates the showdown between Lincoln and General George McClellan, the “Young Napoleon” whose opposition to Lincoln included obsessive fantasies of dictatorship and a military coup. He brings to three-dimensional life their ruinous conflict, demonstrating how their political struggle provided Confederate General Robert E. Lee with his best opportunity to win the war, in the grand offensive that ended in September of 1862 at the bloody Battle of Antietam.
to Second Bull Run. In that first fight, and in the army’s disastrous defeat on August 29–30, the brigade had held its ground despite heavy casualties and the demoralization of the troops around it. However, their present assignment was hopeless. They had to attack on a narrow front, straight into the rifles and artillery of well-entrenched Confederates. Their valor and skill only served to carry them closer to their goal than an average outfit would have got, at the cost of heavier losses—over
in the Sunken Road, some firing “with precision and deliberation” while others—unwilling or afraid to run but not equal to the test of combat—“shut their eyes, and fired up in the air.”7 There were about 2,500 Confederates sheltered by the road embankment, as if in a natural entrenchment. French had about 5,500 troops, but as soon as they topped that roll of ground they were exposed to heavy rifle fire from Rebel infantry sheltered by the embankment and artillery fire from Confederate batteries
rebellion would be prohibitive. He would offer �carrot-and-stick inducements for the South to accept a restoration of the Union, by limiting emancipation to the terms of the Confiscation Act. Only the slaves of active Rebels would be freed, and then only if they were still in arms when the districts they inhabited were actually occupied by Federal troops. The threat of confiscation in this form would give slave owners in the deep South a motive for accepting an early peace, before Northern armies
proceeding. By making them “forever” free, Lincoln precluded the possibility that postwar action, by courts or legislatures, could restore them to slavery. No distinction was made between loyal slaveholders and Rebels within those districts. This was collective punishment, imposed on all those who submitted to Rebel jurisdiction, whether willingly or not. His assertion of the power to make such a broad and categorical confiscation of property was radical; and its social effects, if realized,
his abilities and shook his confidence. He became increasingly reluctant to take responsibility for critical decisions, and desperately anxious for McClellan to leave the Peninsula and assume personal command of the forces in and around Washington. Yet he balked at giving McClellan actual command of operations in the theater, for reasons that were personal and political as well as military. He was well aware of Stanton’s hatred of McClellan and had no stomach for crossing Stanton. Nor was it in