Our Country's Fiery Ordeal

A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)

Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Wisdom of Charles Wainwright: "Antietam was a victory..."

Today was a good day for this historian. Why, you ask? Because it involved Civil War history books. Lots of Civil War history books. I spent a few hours this afternoon hitting a few bookstores in Gettysburg, trying to find some excellent sources for Antietam studies. I did quite well, picking up numerous volumes that will help with research, blog posts, developing programs for the 150th, and so on and so forth. Among these volumes is the Civil War journal of Colonel Charles Wainwright, the Union First Corps artillery chief who arrived at Sharpsburg the day after Antietam. Wainwright's collection is excellent in many ways, as it provides excellent insight into the operations of Union artillery during the war.

Wainwright's journal is excellent as well because it provides some great quotes on very important topics. One quote of Wainwright's in particular which stands out for me comes from a journal entry on October 5, 1862, where he is describing Antietam. While I disagree with some of his thoughts and conclusions on the battle, I find this one to be particularly astute:

"Antietam was a victory, and a glorious one when you consider that but seventeen days before this army was running most disgracefully from the same troops over which they were now victorious."

What?! Antietam was a glorious Union victory?! What a strange thought. Next you will be telling me that McClellan was a competent commander... (for those who follow the blog, you already know my thoughts on this)

Wainwright was exactly right. I often ask visitors who are convinced that the Union army lost at Antietam to stop and think about the broad picture of the campaign. Coming from Second Manassas, Lee had all the momentum, and the Federal forces in Washington were in disarray. Yet, just two and a half weeks later, the quickly revamped Army of the Potomac met the same Army of Northern Virginia in an even bloodier battle, sustaining massive casualties, yet exacting an unsustainable toll on the Confederate force. Following a quick turn around after a major defeat, McClellan was able to drive Lee from Union territory, achieving the same tactical and strategic result as the Gettysburg Campaign. If Gettysburg is a victory, then logic dictates that Antietam must be as well. Wainwright's quote regarding the outcome of Antietam is an excellent source to use when discussing these topics, as even if people don't like my opinion on the subject, they might be more inclined to listen to the words of a man who was actually at the battle itself.


  1. Well said. Wainwright's account is full of excellent observations. I have around 130 quotes from Wainwright on all topics. A skilled artilleryman but also a sharp tongued opinionated fellow. Jim

  2. Jim, I knew you would like this one. Thought of you when I picked up the Wainwright journal. See you at the park my friend.