by Stephen W. Sears ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 22, 1983
In September 1862--after a year and a half of war--Richmond was safe, Washington was threatened, Lee was advancing through Maryland. But McClellan, as usual, was dithering--when there was delivered to him the celebrated Lost Order (found, propitiously, in a meadow) spelling out current Rebel plans in detail and in toto. Still, he temporized: as author Sears remarks laconically, ""a messiah could not afford to be a gambler""; furthermore, a northern Democrat, like McClellan, might also have different priorities than a Republican administration, pressured by radical abolitionists. And such shrewd insights abound here--as Sears, from his long experience as an American Heritage editor, puts the Union victory at Antietam Creek, on September 17, 1862, at the center of the Civil War (politically as well as militarily) and also expands his chronicle internally, through character-portrayal, quotation, documentation. (Some of the source materials that Sears describes have not been used before.) As McClellan prepares cautiously to engage Lee, the British, averse to backing a loser, are waiting to see which way the war will go, while in Lincoln's desk ""is the paper declaring emancipation for the slaves, still requiring a victory in battle to work its revolutionary effect. . . ."" At Antietam, McClellan's army will win despite him--and with that double lesson, Lincoln can safely let him go. The scenes of battle are clearly and effectively rendered, to the accompaniment of numerous maps and much eye-witness testimony; but the book's climax comes rather in the aftermath--in the decisive yet not disrespectful manner of McClellan's dismissal. Though qualities of Lee are also thrown into relief, nothing registers so forcibly throughout as Lincoln's deliberateness. For Civil War buffs, there is considerable development of incidents (including, in appendices, the Lost Order and the matter of Burnside ""carrying the bridge""); for the historically interested reader, there is a graphic, resonant narrative.
Pub Date: June 22, 1983
Page Count: -
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1983
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