150 years ago today at Antietam

One hundred and fifty years ago, Union and Confederate soldiers clashed in a battle in which two out of every three men would die. September 17, 1862, the date on which this horrific event unfolded at Antietam, would be remembered as the bloodiest day in American history.

To remember this tragic day, we’d like to offer you an estimated timeline of the battle, based on So You Think You Know Antietam? by James and Suzanne Gindlesperger. While it is impossible to know exactly what time certain events happened on the battlefield, the following offers an approximate timeline of the day.

(For more Antietam coverage, don’t miss Clint Johnson’s guest blog post on the infamous battle or 10 things you didn’t know about Antietam).


General Joseph Hooker leads the Union’s First Corps on an attack down Hagerstown Turnpike, his eye on Dunker Church. Confederate troops lie in wait in farmer David Miller’s cornfield.

7 a.m.
Seeing the glint of Confederate bayonets in the cornfield, Hooker moves four batteries into position and orders them to fire on the Southerners, who fire back in short order. A bloodbath ensues. The lines move forward and back, control of the cornfield changing hands as many as eight times before the skirmishing ends around 9 a.m. Miller’s cornfield is subsequently considered to be the bloodiest patch of land in America.

9:30 a.m.
General Edwin Sumner of the Union army leads a division of more than 5,000 men into battle, intending to move into the West Woods and attack General Robert E. Lee’s left flank. As the Union lines move through the woods, however, they come under Confederate fire from three different directions. In less than 20 minutes, they suffer more than 2,000 casualties.

9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The fighting at Sunken Road, so named because years of travelers and natural erosion have worn its surface down to several feet below its original level, yields about 5,600 casualties, a relative stalemate, and a new name for the road: Bloody Lane.

10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
While the fighting at Sunken Road is going on, Union General Ambrose Burnside is ordered to attack Lee’s right flank. Burnside sends General Isaac Rodman downstream to cross Antietam Creek and attack Confederate troops on the west side of the stream. It takes the Union three attempts to cross Rohrbach’s Bridge, now known as Burnside’s Bridge, the southernmost crossing of the creek.

3 p.m.
Having gained control of the bridge, Burnside’s men form a mile-wide battle line, pushing Confederate forces back toward Sharpsburg.

4 p.m.
General A. P. Hill’s Confederate reinforcements arrive from Harpers Ferry and immediately engage in a counterattack against the Federal left flank. Burnside’s troops fall back to a position on the west bank of Antietam Creek, where Burnside makes an urgent request for more men. General George McClellan tells him he can spare only one battery, famously saying, “I can do nothing more. I have no infantry.” In fact, nearly a third of McClellan’s army remains in reserve. Burnside’s men therefore spend the rest of the day guarding the bridge they had taken hours earlier.

5:30 p.m.
The battle ends with no clear winner. It is, however, a turning point in the Civil War because it ends Lee’s strategic campaign and allows President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Of 23,000 casualties on both sides, 3,600 are dead, making this the bloodiest day in American history.

Clint Johnson on Antietam: A Battle Field Everyone Should See

Our resident Civil War enthusiast Clint Johnson gives us his perspective on the Battle of Antietam and what the 150th anniversary means to him. Clint is the author of 12 books on the American Civil War, including the newest editions of  Touring the Carolinas’ Civil War Sites and Touring Virginia’s and West Virginia’s Civil War Sites. Here, he covers the battle, its significance, and even its ghosts.


Battle of Antietam / Sharpsburg

The Antietam National Battlefield, better known to Southerners as Sharpsburg, Maryland, is one of those places which can be appreciated by both dedicated Civil War historians and people who have only a casual interest in the war.

It is compact, as opposed to the sprawling landscape of Gettysburg.  It is sobering because 23,000 men were killed or wounded in a single day in an area not much bigger than a large housing development.

The battle itself is also easily understood as it took place in three phrases in three different places at three different times of the day.

It has drama; Robert E. Lee determined to make a stand here once he learned his tactical orders were in the hands of the Federal commander, George McClellan;  Federals and Confederates attacked each other across the Miller corn field again and again; the Tar Heels defended the Sunken Road until their bodies were stacked so thick that Federals walked across them without touching ground; A.P. Hill’s Corps made a forced march of 16 miles from Harpers Ferry, arriving just in the nick of time to save Lee himself from capture or death.

It has historical significance. President Lincoln determined that he would issue the Emancipation Proclamation after the stand-off at Sharpsburg (that he declared a victory) that would help convince the North that the war’s objective should be turned from a war to preserve the Union to a war to free the slaves.  It was after Sharpsburg that an exasperated Lincoln began to think of replacing McClellan who kept thousands of men in reserve rather than use them to crush Lee’s depleted army. Had McClellan acted as most other generals would, the war would have been virtually over barely a year and a half after it began.

It is also spooky. The only ghost story I am convinced really happened to a friend of mine behind Dunker Church, where uncounted numbers of Confederates are buried. About 10 years ago my reenactment unit, the 26th North Carolina, was camped across from the church. A 20-year-old reenactor went to the port-a-john late at night. While he was standing inside with his candle lantern by his side, two heads poked themselves through the plastic to stare him in the eyes from a distance of six inches. One was perfectly formed. The other looked like a department store manikin with no eyes, mouth or nose. The ghost in front of him said just two words: “GET OUT!”  I believe this story because all reenactors want to converse with a ghost while standing picket late at night on a famous battle field – NOT while taking a whiz in a plastic toilet.

Sharpsburg is a place everyone who had ancestors in The Army of the Potomac, or The Army of Northern Virginia should visit. I had at least three there with Lee. All of them survived that day.  With the help of National Park Service rangers, you should be able to find the ground on which your ancestors fought.  At Sharpsburg you can literally walk in their footsteps.


For details on this weekend’s memorials at the battle field, learn more from the National Park Service or the anniversary reenactment. And pick up your copy of So You Think You Know Antietam? to find your way around the park and learn little-known stories about the men and women who were there on September 17, 1862.

Ten things you didn’t know about the Battle of Antietam

With the 15oth anniversary of the Battle of Antietam just around the corner, James and Suzanne Gindlesperger, authors of So You Think You Know Antietam? The Stories Behind the America’s Bloodiest Day, shared with us some fascinating anecdotes about the people who lived–and sometimes died–on September 17, 1962. We hope you’ll remember them as you commemorate the anniversary this weekend.


1. Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, attended to the wounded and dying at Antietam. At one point, as she knelt to give a fallen soldier a cup of water, a stray bullet passed through her sleeve and struck her patient in the chest, killing him almost instantly. Another of her patients turned out to be a woman who had been wounded in the neck as she searched for her husband. The monument to Barton has a small red cross at the base made of bricks from the chimney of the house where she was born.

2. Joseph K. F. Mansfield was one of three Union generals killed at Antietam. Mansfield, who entered West Point at the age of 14, graduated second in his class. At age 59, he was one of the oldest officers of any rank on the field that day. He may have had a premonition of his death as, a few days before the battle, he told a friend, “We may never meet again.” His picture was on $500 bills issued in the 1870s.

3. There were actually seven cornfields that saw fighting during the battle, but the one owned by the Miller family is considered one of the bloodiest patches of land in America. The fighting in the “Cornfield” produced so many bodies that a person could walk from one corner to the other without touching the ground.

4. Three Union soldiers from the 27th Indiana’s Company F found an envelope while resting along the roadside near Frederick, Maryland. Inside that envelope were three cigars and a copy of General Robert E. Lee’s Special Orders No. 191, outlining his plans for the upcoming campaign. One of the soldiers who found “the Lost Order” was Private John Bloss, who went on to become president of what is now Oregon State University.

5. One of five wounds to Colonel John B. Gordon of the Sixth Alabama caused him to fall with his face pressed into his hat. The hat rapidly filled with blood, but a hole shot through it saved him from drowning. He went on to become governor and a three-term U.S. senator from Georgia.

6. While the Irish Brigade, famous for its war cry, “Faugh a Ballagh,” or “Clear the Way,” was recruited to fight in the Civil War, there was a secondary motive in the minds of the organizers, who hoped the recruits could be persuaded to eventually fight to liberate Ireland from British rule. The brigade’s commander, Thomas Meagher, had been found guilty of treason in Ireland and banished to Tasmania before fleeing to the United States. During one assault, General Meagher fell from his horse, forcing him to give up command. Meagher claimed that his horse had been shot, but witnesses said that his fall was the result of his consumption of whiskey.

7. It was believed that Robert E. Lee observed much of the battle from atop a large boulder in the area designated for the national cemetery. Because it was unacceptable to have such a landmark where Union soldiers were buried, the rock was dug up, broken into pieces, and scattered. It was later learned Lee had never been on the rock.

8. The 23rd Ohio was the only regiment in either army to have two future presidents in its ranks—Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley.

9. Prior to the battle, Colonel Edward Ferrero disciplined the men of the 51st Pennsylvania Infantry by taking away their whiskey ration. When he asked them to take the Burnside Bridge, the men said they would if he returned their whiskey. They took the bridge; Ferrero returned their whiskey.

10. A couple of innovations never before associated with war came about as a direct result of the battle. Alexander Gardner, assistant to Mathew Brady, went to the battlefield and took shocking photos that revealed to civilians the true savagery of war. Also, Dr. Jonathan Letterman, the chief medical officer for the Army of the Potomac, used ambulances on a large scale for the first time and developed a triage system to evaluate and prioritize the treatment of wounds.

Joseph Bathanti, Blair-distributed author, named N.C. Poet Laureate

Congrats, Joseph Bathanti! The award-winning poet, professor, and advocate for literacy has been named North Carolina’s Poet Laureate by Governor Bev Perdue.

“Joseph Bathanti is an award-winning poet and novelist with a robust commitment to social causes. He first came to North Carolina to work in the VISTA program and has taught writing workshops in prisons for 35 years,” Perdue said. “As North Carolina’s new Poet Laureate he plans to work with veterans to share their stories through poetry — a valuable and generous project.”

North Carolina’s seventh poet laureate, Bathanti will be installed during a public celebration scheduled Thursday, Sept. 20 at 4:30 p.m. at the State Capitol. The event is free.

Bathanti’s books of poetry include This Metal (St. Andrews College Press, 1996 and Press 53, 2012), Restoring Sacred Art (Star Cloud Press, 2010), Land of Amnesia (Press 53, 2009), Anson County (Williams & Simpson, 1989 and Parkway Publishers, 2005, distributed by John F. Blair), The Feast of All Saints (Nightshade press, 1994) and Communion Partners (Briarpatch Press, 1986). He has published two novels, Coventry (Novello Festival Press, 2006, distributed by John F. Blair) and East Liberty (Banks Channel Books, 2001, distributed by John F. Blair) along with a book of short stories, The High Heart (Eastern Washington University Press, 2007).

A native of Pittsburgh, Penn., Bathanti arrived in North Carolina in 1976 as a member of Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), a national service program designed to fight poverty, and he never left the state. Assigned to work in Huntersville Prison in Mecklenburg County, he met fellow volunteer and future wife, Joan Carey on his first day of training. They have been married for 35 years.

An eBook special for this weekend’s BookMarks Festival

BookMarks FestivalJoin us at the BookMarks Festival this Saturday, September 8, on Trade Street in downtown Winston-Salem, N.C. As usual, we’ll be selling hundreds of backlist books for $2 and some of our new titles for half price, while two of our authors will speak and sign books:

Woody Durham
Woody Durham: A Tar Heel Voice, with Adam Lucas
10:15 a.m. on the Main Stage

Carolyn Sakowski
Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads
Get Outdoors in North Carolina panel with Joe Miller and David Blevins
12:45 p.m. on the Downtown Stage

But this year, if you can’t attend BookMarks in person, we’ve still got a deal for you.

$1.99 eBook Promotion

Throughout all of September, you can purchase our Backlight eBook for just $1.99 from IndieBound (support your local bookstore!), Kindle, Nook, and Google Books. Each month, we’ll feature a new eBook, so check our blog, Facebook, or Twitter for updates.

This month, we’ve picked one of our bestsellers–SWAG: Southern Women Aging Gracefully, by Melinda Rainey Thompson. In this humorous collection of essays, Thompson covers the SWAG nation in all its glory, chronicling the everyday etiquette and eccentricities of a woman’s life in the South. Her topics range from swimsuit shopping to squirrel battling, from magnolia theft to cemetery propriety. “This book won’t raise your consciousness about a new social ill,” Thompson says. “It won’t make you look younger or skinnier, and it won’t improve your stock portfolio. It will, however, provide you with a few hours of guilt-free, non-fattening fun.”

“Reading Melinda Rainey Thompson’s SWAG is like sitting on Granny’s porch swing eating a piece of pound cake with a sleeping cat wrapped around your ankles. You feel full, warm, and, most of all, grateful to be a Southerner, ” says Celia Rivenbark, author of We’re Just Like You, Only Prettier.

So what are you waiting for? For only $1.99, get reading!

Woody Remembers — and helps the Ronald McDonald House

Most of us know Woody Durham as the former “voice of the Tar Heels,” or even as the author of his new autobiography, Woody Durham: A Tar Heel Voice, cowritten with Adam Lucas. What many of us don’t realize is that Woody is as much a devoted philanthropist as he is a Tar Heel icon.

Woody and his wife Jean have been guiding forces on behalf of The Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill since its inception. The House is a home away from home for families of seriously ill or injured children receiving treatment at area hospitals, providing close access to health care, nourishment, emotional support, and financial relief. Since 1988, the House has supported more than 30,000 families from all 100 North Carolina counties, 39 states, and 21 foreign countries. As co-chair for the organization’s Carolina Kids Classic Golf Tournament for 22 years, Woody raised $3+ million in support of seriously ill children and their families.

Woody RemembersNow Woody and Jean are turning their focus to a new way to support the House. Woody Remembers is a highlight collection of 25 of the most exciting moments in Carolina Football and Basketball history, spanning 40 years. On this CD, new introductions by the Hall of Fame broadcaster are paired with his original broadcasts and player interviews, helping listeners relive each victory.

For the first time on one CD, Woody has compiled some of his favorite moments of Tar Heel sports magic, including:

  • Roy Williams’s teams stomp two Big Ten rivals for national championships
  • Connor Barth kicks it through the uprights to beat #3 ranked Miami
  • Michael Jordan’s game winner secures Coach Dean Smith’s first title
  • Kelvin Bryant racks up an amazing six TDs against ECU
  • Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice dismantles #1 ranked Texas

All proceeds from Woody Remembers benefit the “House with a heart.” You can purchase or download the CD for $14.99 through www.WoodyRemembers.com or at www.cdbaby.com/cd/woodydurham.

A guest blog from Blake Fontenay, author of The Politics of Barbecue

Today we celebrate the publication of The Politics of Barbecue, a “spoofy thriller” by Tennessee author Blake Fontenay. Set in Memphis, this novel moves past  landmarks such as Beale Street, Graceland, and Mud Island as an unlikely group of heroes gets a glimpse into the greed and corruption all too rampant in government. Already selected as an “Editor’s Pick from Book Expo America 2012” by Library Journal, this lighthearted romp sounds like a  perfect read for a turbulent election year, don’t you think?

Today, we’ll let Blake tell you, in his own words, exactly what inspired him to write this novel in the first place. Enjoy!


Explaining why I wrote The Politics of Barbecue is about as easy as eating ribs without getting messy fingers. From as early as I can remember, I’ve loved reading and writing. That’s probably no huge shock, since my father was a newspaperman (I don’t think they were called journalists in those days) who also had published novels to his credit.

I don’t remember my dad ever pressuring me to follow in his footsteps. But he did read to my sister and me often when we were young—the Tolkien books, C. S. Lewis, anything he thought would be of interest. He also frequently took me to his workplace, the newsroom at The Tennessean in Nashville.

At that young age, working for a newspaper appealed to me more than becoming a novelist. There was something about the energy of a newsroom—finding out things before everyone else did, then telling the rest of the world—that struck a chord with me.

In elementary school, I started my own newspaper, The Cricket, which I was able to keep going with the support of neighbors and classmates. I’ll never forget the day I showed up at school without the fare money I needed to ride the city bus home, but with an armful of issues of The Cricket. I made enough sales to pay for my ride that day, which probably gave me a false sense of security about the financial future of newspapers.

Of course, I enjoyed writing creative stories at that age, too. And essays. Really, any type of writing presented a delicious challenge. Except for novels. I tried a couple of times, but getting from “Once upon a time” to “The End” just seemed too daunting. How could anyone possibly write something that long?

As I got older—and as I realized I had no future as a pro soccer player—the idea of becoming a newspaper reporter stuck with me. So I went out and did that. And I had a fun and exciting career. I got to cover nighttime launches from Cape Canaveral. Do first-person stories from the pits at NASCAR races. Experience the craziness of Daytona Beach’s Bike Week. And interview all sorts of people—regular folks, cops, lawyers, athletes, CEOs, politicians.

I gravitated toward beats that included the latter group, which eventually led to a job covering city hall for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tennessee. When I took the job, I considered it no more than a way station in my journey of life. I thought I would spend one or two years there, then return to one of the newspapers in Florida and end my career there.

Then life happened. Before I knew it, I had spent a decade in Memphis, transitioning from my reporting job to one as an editorial writer and political columnist. I also fell in with a group that produced the Memphis Gridiron Show, an annual charity event in which local politicians and other public figures were satirized in song and skit. Pretty much by accident, I became the show’s head skit writer.

After 20-plus years of grinding out bylines, I finally decided I needed a new writing challenge. It was great to work on something a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks and then see it in print. But I wanted something that took longer to create—and wasn’t just me parroting words other people had told me. I wanted to spin the kind of story my father had read to me when I was young. And if I’m totally honest, I wanted to do something that would make him proud as he was entering the final years of his life.

The inspiration for The Politics of Barbecue came from several sources. As a reader, I enjoy stories that have a strong sense of place. And Memphis has as great a sense of place as any town I’ve ever seen. It’s a gritty city with its share of crime, blight, and urban problems. But it also has a wonderful culture of food, music, history, and Southern hospitality. So part of my motivation was to tell outsiders about the Memphis they didn’t know.

Many people know something about Memphis’s reputation for great barbecue, but they really don’t understand the depths of passion many Memphians have for grilled meat. I remember a cookout I attended one Saturday during football season. The host and another guest got into a shouting match over whether or not it was okay to open the smoker door long enough to check on how the ribs were doing. Competitors in the city’s barbecue cooking contests are even more intense.

A story based on plans for a Barbecue Hall of Fame seemed like a natural fit. After all, Memphis has an ornamental metal museum, but not one dedicated to its signature food? And the cynical journalist in me said that no project like that could be built in Memphis—or probably anywhere else—without its fair share of political corruption.

I hope that The Politics of Barbecue both informs and entertains. It has serious themes dealing with corruption, urban problems, and the importance of civic engagement. But it’s also a story I hope will keep readers laughing and turning the pages.

Because it’s a story that reaffirms how messy life can be. Just like good barbecue.


Like what you’ve read? Blake will promote his new book while on tour across parts of Tennessee and Mississippi–check his events to see if he’ll be signing near you. Be sure to like Blake on Facebook as well.