- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2008

This book is long-awaited good news for students of the Battle of Antietam and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Maryland Campaign of September 1862.

Editor Joseph Pierro has taken Ezra Ayers Carman’s manuscript, found at the Library of Congress in handwritten form, and made it into a necessary part of the Antietam lexicon.

Even with the manuscript being difficult to read, Antietam scholar Joseph L. Harsh and other historians over the decades were able to mine it for its wonderfully important materials.

Mr. Pierro’s efforts to transcribe and edit these documents not only will give history students ready access to this source but will point them toward many other valuable primary and secondary sources Carman used.

Mr. Pierro also reviewed Carman’s three boxes of Antietam papers, comprising letters and questionnaires from participants. These were located at the National Archives, and a similar amount of material was at the New York Public Library.

The library has a large Carman Papers holding that includes personal correspondence and letters from his service in the Pension Bureau. Thus, Mr. Pierro’s efforts in reviewing and checking Carman’s sources make his work much more valuable than a mere transcription of Carman’s Library of Congress manuscript.

Carman was a participant in the Battle of Antietam as a colonel commanding the 13th New Jersey. He also was the long-term historian serving on the Antietam National Battlefield Board, so he was able to tour the field with veterans and exchange hundreds of letters with them and also interview residents.

As Mr. Pierro points out, Carman wrote the text for the battlefield tablets and also positioned units on the famous series of Antietam maps by Col. E.B. Cope, a surveyor, published in 1904 and revised in 1908.

Though Mr. Harsh relied heavily on Carman’s work, he described it as amateurish because Carman lacked objectivity and wrote poorly. Nevertheless, the sum of the materials Carman collected in his decades of studying the campaign, including letters and maps from veterans, oral interviews and his physical knowledge of the battlefield, supplied the dedicated researcher with extraordinary materials about the campaign.

Modern-day readers easily will be able to sort out Carman’s biases, such as his obvious disdain for Union Gen. in Chief Henry W. Halleck. Carman may have too readily accepted Confederate accounts of various incidents.

He treads lightly on their failures, perhaps because of the influence of the Southern-leaning “Lost Cause” school. Analyses and dissections of Carman’s achievement will follow, but the first step is to make it available for review, as Mr. Pierro has done.

An earlier effort, an unpublished 2002 doctoral dissertation done at George Mason University, “Ezra Ayres Carman and the Maryland Campaign of September 1862,” by Thomas G. Clemens, transcribed the first seven of Carman’s 24 chapters. Mr. Clemens used chapter endnotes and biographies and also gave a helpful bibliography and biographical dictionary, but his dissertation does not have an index. His version of Carman’s manuscript is edited more lightly than Mr. Pierro’s, so comparing the two versions may be instructive.

Purists still may want to attempt to read Carman’s handwritten manuscript on microfilm at the Library of Congress, but those scholars would be better served to use Mr. Pierro’s trustworthy transcription while supplementing his first seven chapters with Mr. Clemens’ dissertation.

Mr. Pierro’s very detailed, extensive index makes researching this large volume easy. Fifteen appendices include details of the organization and strengths of the two armies, casualties in the various battles making up the campaign, the British perspective, the controversial surrender of Harpers Ferry, and the mortal wounding of Union Gen. Joseph K.F. Mansfield.

Interestingly, Carman also included the virulent anti-Union Maryland state song, “My Maryland,” in his manuscript. Mr. Pierro made these appendices from tables and lists Carman had scattered throughout his 1,400-page manuscript.

Mr. Pierro’s use of footnotes rather than endnotes is to be applauded. This enables the reader to peruse quickly the source of information at the bottom of the page or to find clarification of the source, thus saving the reader from searching endnotes hundreds of pages away from the text being read.

Some may find the absence of a bibliography disappointing. The editor explains that Carman did not make one. However, Mr. Pierro helpfully switches back from short title to full citations in footnotes at the start of each new chapter. He checked and cited only references that probably would have been available to Carman.

The value of this book is somewhat diminished by the lack of maps. This is because the 14 Carman-Cope maps are so large, showing regimental-size units. Their sheer size and number would have turned this into a giant coffee-table book, much less useful for researchers as well as more casual readers. The maps are available for viewing on the Library of Congress American Memory Web site and also on commercially available CDs.

Mr. Pierro helps the modern reader by addressing the faults Mr. Harsh found regarding Carman’s poor writing skills. Without diminishing Carman’s meaning, Pierro standardized spelling and punctuation and applied modern editing techniques to this previously unedited manuscript. He also corrected Carman’s obvious mistakes.

Mr. Pierro tried to track down all of Carman’s references, but some proved elusive because Carman sometimes did not cite his sources or described them only generally. Mr. Pierro carefully notes when changes are made in Carman’s manuscript or when attributions cannot be located. He was fully successful in his effort to present a readable, reliable and accessible reference for students of the campaign.

Mr. Pierro has taken the essential first step by moving Carman’s unique and comprehensive manuscript out of the realm of the hard-to-find and -understand. Historians, students, and history buffs now can use invaluable Carman material as easily as other sources in studying what some call the most important battle of the Civil War.

Larry Freiheit is a member of the Society for Military History and the Society of Civil War Historians.

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