The best books on America’s bloodiest day, the Civil War’s Battle of Antietam

David A. Welker Author Of The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point
By David A. Welker

Who am I?

As a child my grandmother shared that we had ancestors who had served during the Civil War, a momentary conversation that set me on a lifetime quest to connect with those men and their experiences.  My professional work as a historian and military analyst for the US Government helped build the skills that enabled this quest and each of my books, articles, and videos seek to understand and share both the “what” of those experiences and the “why” of the war’s many battles and conflicts.  


I wrote...

The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point

By David A. Welker,

Book cover of The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point

What is my book about?

For generations of Americans the name Antietam—a bucolic western Maryland stream—held the same sense of horror and carnage that the date 9/11 does for modern Americas. Now, David A. Welker’s The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point for the first time tells the full story of the exciting struggle to control “the Cornfield,” the action upon which this great battle turned. Offering fresh views of the battle as a whole, it provides readers an engaging, exciting, and historically-accurate story of human struggle against fearful odds, of men seeking to do their duty, of simply trying to survive amidst a self-reinforcing cycle of disaster that doomed the Union's prospects for success—at the cost of 22,000 casualties and thousands of lives.

The books I picked & why

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Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam

By Stephen W. Sears,

Book cover of Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam

Why this book?

Crafted like a well-told story, Sears’ now classic volume was my first foray into the Battle of Antietam lo these many years ago. It offers readers an engaging, generally accurate overview of the background, events, and results of America’s costliest day, September 17, 1862. Although its three-phase, framing approach to the battle has been surpassed by new interpretations, it remains a useful starting point for those wishing to learn the basics and if readers seek only one work to read on Antietam, this is the book to choose. Every student of the battle—casual, serious, or scholarly--will want to have read and be familiar with Sears' work.     

Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam

By Stephen W. Sears,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Landscape Turned Red as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“The best account of the Battle of Antietam” from the award-winning, national bestselling author of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville (The New York Times Book Review).

The Civil War battle waged on September 17, 1862, at Antietam Creek, Maryland, was one of the bloodiest in the nation’s history: in this single day, the war claimed nearly 23,000 casualties. In Landscape Turned Red, the renowned historian Stephen 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 also by its soldiers, both Union and Confederate. Combining brilliant…

The Gleam of Bayonets: The Battle of Antietam and Robert E. Lee's Maryland Campaign, September 1862

By James V. Murfin,

Book cover of The Gleam of Bayonets: The Battle of Antietam and Robert E. Lee's Maryland Campaign, September 1862

Why this book?

Murfin’s readable classic account of the battle takes readers deeper into the military movements and fighting action. His detailed maps further enrich readers’ understanding of the “who” and the “how” of Antietam’s battle. Adding considerable numbers of personal soldier stories, Murfin’s work takes readers closer to understanding the common soldier’s experience, while tying those experiences to the larger objectives of senior military officers. Although his analysis generally reflects an earlier era, knowing how the battle was understood during the Civil War’s centennial provides context for most current interpretations of America’s bloodiest day.    

The Gleam of Bayonets: The Battle of Antietam and Robert E. Lee's Maryland Campaign, September 1862

By James V. Murfin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Gleam of Bayonets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the bloodiest days in American military history, the Battle of Antietam turned the tide of the Civil War in favor of the North and delivered the first major defeat to Robert E. Lee's army. In The Gleam of Bayonets, James V. Murfin gives a compelling account of the events and personalities involved in this momentous battle. The gentleness and patience of Lincoln, the vacillations of McClellan, and the grandeur of Lee- all unfold before the reader. The battle itself is presented with precision and scope as Murfin blends together atmosphere and fact, emotions and tactics, into a dramatic…

The Maryland Campaign of September 1862: Volume II - Antietam

By Ezra A. Carman, Thomas Clemens (editor),

Book cover of The Maryland Campaign of September 1862: Volume II - Antietam

Why this book?

Ezra Carman’s seminal work, a must-read for anyone wanting to master the battle’s often-complex swirl of events, was simply invaluable to my own research on the Battle of Antietam. Unpublished for decades—part of a much larger work, Carman passed away before completing it—Carman’s volume uniquely draws on his personal experience as an Antietam veteran (commanding the 13th New Jersey Infantry Regiment) while also offering the author’s wider analysis. I think Clemens’ is the best of several modern published versions, providing in footnotes the editor’s research identifying Carman’s sources, many of which the author obtained from fellow Antietam veterans and which remain available only in libraries and archives. Be forewarned, however, that Carman writes in the often-obtuse style of his era and because this is a published raw draft, it frequently dives into detailed rabbit holes before suddenly leaping on to a new topic. Even so, no other source offers Carman’s contemporaneous, primary source insight.  

The Maryland Campaign of September 1862: Volume II - Antietam

By Ezra A. Carman, Thomas Clemens (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Antietam is the eagerly awaited second volume of Ezra Carman's magisterial The Maryland Campaign of September 1862.

Many authors have written about the climactic September 17 battle of the 1862 invasion of Maryland, but it is impossible to do so without referencing Carman's sweeping and definitive maps and 1,800-page manuscript. His work guides every Civil War historian and comprises the basis of the National Park Service's interpretive programs at Antietam. Indeed, even the basic layout of the National Park battlefield was based upon Carman's groundbreaking work. Carman had the advantage of not only participating in the battle as a colonel…

A Full Blown Yankee of the Iron Brigade: Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers

By Rufus R. Dawes,

Book cover of A Full Blown Yankee of the Iron Brigade: Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers

Why this book?

I found Major Rufus Dawes' first-hand account of Antietam to be perhaps the best, most readable of the many soldier accounts available. Not only does Dawes write clear narrative accounts of what he experienced at Antietam, but he offers his own feelings and thoughts on the fighting that take the reader beyond the movements and action. Another thing that I appreciated about Dawes' account is that he frequently offers wider context for the fighting and movements that gives the reader a deeper understanding of why he was experiencing these events (and unlike many other postwar accounts, Dawes avoids using this hindsight to cast blame). Although it naturally only gives the Union side and a small portion of the battle, Dawes' experiences probably generally reflect what it was like to “be there.”

A Full Blown Yankee of the Iron Brigade: Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers

By Rufus R. Dawes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Full Blown Yankee of the Iron Brigade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"I have been so wholly engrossed with my work for the last week or I should have responded sooner to your question: 'Are you going?' If a kind Providence and President Lincoln will permit, I am. I am Captain of as good, and true a band of patriots as ever rallied under the star spangled banner."-Rufus R. Dawes. A Full Blown Yankee of the Iron Brigade combines the personal experiences of Rufus R. Dawes with a history of the regiment in which he served. The Iron Brigade was the only all-Western brigade that fought in the eastern armies of the…

Too Afraid to Cry: Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign

By Kathleen A. Ernst,

Book cover of Too Afraid to Cry: Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign

Why this book?

Civilians affected by America’s bloodiest day—tiny Sharpsburg, Maryland was literally at the center of the fighting—are too frequently treated as an afterthought, but Kathy Earnst’s excellent book proved a vital resource for capturing their experiences in my own book. Featuring firsthand accounts of these experiences that day, she provides background stories of these average people swept up in this event as well as short descriptions of their lives after the battle.

Too Afraid to Cry: Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign

By Kathleen A. Ernst,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Too Afraid to Cry as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Studies the Maryland Campaign of 1862 from the perspective of the people living in the region.

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