Save Historic Antietam Foundation Sponsors Dinner and Tour
Author and historian Marion V. Armstrong will be the featured speaker and
tour leader in a SHAF-sponsored event taking place October 10 & 11, 2008.
His new book, Unfurl Those Colors: McClellan, Sumner and the Second Army
Corps in the Antietam Campaign, is receiving critical acclaim and will be
the featured topic of event. On Friday night, October 10, at 6:30 p.m.,
SHAF will host a dinner at the Old South Mountain Inn, followed by a lecture
focusing on the early actions of the campaign. On Saturday morning,
October 11, Mr. Armstrong will lead a morning walking tour of the Second
Corps' attack in the West Woods. After a break for lunch (on your own), he
will lead a walking tour of the Second Corps attack at Sunken Road.
This is a special event that is a unique opportunity for personal contact
with a nationally-recognized authority on this portion of the battle of
Antietam. The cost for the entire program is $50 for SHAF members - the
public is also invited to attend for $60. Dinner attendance is limited to
45 due to space limitations. Reservations, details on menu, and start times
for the walking tours will be posted on SHAF.org, or by calling
Mr. Armstrong recently took some time to answer some questions for SHAF.
SHAF: Mr. Armstrong thanks for conducting this tour for SHAF members. Can
you start off by telling us a little about your background?
MVA: I'm a native of Maryland, born and raised in Havre de Grace. I
graduated from the University of Scranton in 1969, and then served six years
on active duty as an infantry officer with tours in Viet Nam and Korea.
After that I worked for the Army as a civilian and remained active in the
Army Reserve. I have had a life long interest in history, which I indulged
with a master's degree in history from Old Dominion University and a
doctoral degree from Middle Tennessee State University. After retiring in
1995, my wife and I moved to Tennessee where I began teaching history as
adjunct faculty for various colleges in the Nashville area.
SHAF: What first got you interested in the Battle of Antietam in general and
the role of the Second Corps in the campaign in particular?
MVA: I can't remember a time when I was not interested in the Civil War. I
was a teenager during the Civil War centennial and my father brought me to
the centennial reenactment of the Battle of Antietam in September 1962.
That was my first visit to Antietam National Battlefield. Thereafter
Antietam was always my favorite Civil War battle.
As I became more knowledgeable about the battle I also became increasingly
uncomfortable with the standard interpretations of the role of General
Sumner at Antietam. It always seemed to me that there was more to his
story. So after completing my master's degree in the early 1990s I decided
to see if I could discover the details of his actions and orders at
Antietam. That led to the publication of Disaster in the West Woods, which
is a defense of Sumner as commander of the Second Army Corps at Antietam.
For my doctoral dissertation I wanted to do an operational study that would
illustrate how Civil War tactical doctrine-the subject of my master's
thesis-was applied and practiced in the field. Since the army corps was the
operational unit of the Civil War army, and since I already had a large
amount of research on Sumner and Antietam, the Second Army Corps in the
Maryland Campaign was the natural choice. I completed the dissertation in
2004 and it was published earlier this year by the University of Alabama
Press as Unfurl Those Colors!
SHAF: Perhaps the most controversial aspect of your book, "Unfurl Those
Colors", is your argument that Sumner ordered French to attack the Sunken
Road position, which flies in the face of the conventional interpretation
that the separation of the corps was unintentional. In brief, on what do
you base your theory?
MVA: First, Sumner's reconnaissance as he arrived on the battlefield brought
him to the high ground in the vicinity of the junction of the Smoketown Road
and the Mumma farm lane. This was at the point in time when Rhodes's and
Anderson's brigades were moving into the Sunken Road, something that was
clearly visible from where Sumner was. Sumner had just received
instructions from McClellan to continue the attack to the south and west of
Sharpsburg, which would necessarily involve seizing the West Woods. He
could not accomplish this and leave the Confederate force in the Sunken Road
in his rear. His decision was to send Sedgwick's division to the West Woods
and have French's handle the forces in the Sunken Road.
Second, after Sedgwick seized the West Woods, Sumner was on the Hagerstown
Pike in front of the Dunker Church and sent an order to French to press his
attack. The order was carried by Sumner's son and aide, Captain Sam Sumner.
Sam did not ride back to the East Woods to find French, which he would have
done if French were lost or late, but rode east past Tompkins's battery to
the vicinity of the Sunken Road because he knew this is where French would
be directing the attack on the Sunken Road. Also, it should be noted that
the order was to "press the attack," not "begin the attack," because the
attack on the Sunken Road had been previously ordered.
Third, French in his battle report mentions Sam Sumner delivering the order
to press the attack. The point in time when Sam arrived was after French
had already committed Weber's and Morris's brigades, and based on the order
he committed Kimball's brigade to the attack. Sedgwick's attack toward the
West Woods and French's attack toward the Sunken Road were simultaneous
events that could only have occurred simultaneously if both had been given
orders to start at the same time.
SHAF: What do you think of the new trails at the park, specifically the West
MVA: I applaud wholeheartedly the effort to give visitors greater access to
the battlefield through the development of interpretive trails. This is
especially true of the West Woods trail. Not only does it allow greater
access to the limits of Sedgwick's advance, it also allows access to the
ravine in the West Woods which led Barksdale's brigade to the gap between
the 125th Pennsylvania and the 7th Michigan. This is what led to the
reverse suffered by Sedgwick's division. How we interpret the battle is
based in large measure on what we can see and know of the field itself.
There is much more of the battlefield available today than ever
before-thanks in no small measure to the efforts of SHAF-and our
understanding of the battle is increased exponentially when we are able to
walk it and see it as the participants did.
SHAF: Is there anything in particular that you are looking forward to or
wish to accomplish with the upcoming SHAF tour of Second Corps at Antietam?
Much of my interpretation of the role of McClellan, Sumner, and the Second
Corps at Antietam is dependent on being able to see the battlefield as the
participants did. The visual prospective is critical to understanding
decisions, orders, movements and outcomes during the battle. SHAF and its
members have been key to acquiring and restoring the battlefield. This
gives historians an invaluable source for interpreting the battle. On the
tour I hope to show the SHAF membership how my access to the battlefield
influenced my interpretations. I owe a large debt of gratitude to SHAF for
making that resource available.
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