Almost every angle imaginable on the Civil War has been studied and yet authors continue to bring forth different perspectives. This is the case with Justin Martin’s A Fierce: Antietam-The Desperate Battle That Saved Lincoln and Doomed Slavery.
I have read many accounts of the Battle of Antietam – most focus solely on either side or give a balanced view of the battle. Martin gives a balanced account of the battle, but he adds a new element by looking at Abraham Lincoln during the battle. Lincoln was waiting to hear about the results of the battle before he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln was anxious to issue it, but he did not want to issue it after a loss – better effect if it was issued after a victory.
Martin’s descriptions of the fighting are not too detailed, but they are enough to give the reader a decent picture of how the battle unfolded and why it ended the way it did. Its greatest strength is not in the battle descriptions, but in explaining the relationship between the battle and Lincoln’s decision to issue the Proclamation. Martin discusses Lincoln’s thought process in coming to the conclusion for issuing the Proclamation rather than choosing another course like the federal government paying for the freedom of the slaves and sending them back to Africa.
Another part I enjoyed was Martin’s discussion on the unique relationship between Lincoln and Union general George McClellan. They were polar opposites in many ways: Lincoln was humble, McClellan was a braggart; Lincoln was aggressive in wanting the Union to attack, McClellan was cautious to a fault; Lincoln was a Republican, McClellan was a Democrat who eventually ran for President against Lincoln. Throughout the battle, Lincoln was desperate for news and McClellan knew it and yet he refused to inform Lincoln on the battle except in the vaguest of terms.
Finally, it includes several pages of photographs from the battlefield and major characters covered in the book. It also includes three good maps of the Battle and of Lincoln’s daily commute to work.
Excellent book that looks at the Battle of Antietam from a different angle.