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“Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam” Book Review

It can be questioned whether or not the book Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, written by historian James McPherson, represents a theme of contingency. McPherson describes contingency as “the recognition that at numerous critical points during the war things might have gone altogether differently.” That being said, critical events and decisions like The Battle of Bull Run, Special Order: 191, and the Emancipation Proclamation, are important factors that contributed to the outcome of Antietam. Although some may disagree, I argue that James McPherson’s book Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam represents a theme of contingency regarding the Battle of Antietam. This is due to the crucial actions and decisions leading up to and during the war that influenced and swayed the outcome.

“Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam” Book Review

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The Civil War was contingent on accidents, such as the discovery of Special Order 191, made during The Battle of Antietam. As Major Mclellan’s Union troops were preparing for the impending battle against Commander Robert E. Lee’s Confederate troops, Union soldiers Corporal Barton W. Mitchell and Sergeant John M. Bloss came across an envelope that contained Special Order: 191, which encompassed documents that described the plans Lee’s troops were going to be using during battle. With the discovery of this new information, Major Mclellan was confident that the Union would make vital progress in both the war and the upcoming battle. Mclellan informed President Lincoln about the discovery stating that “I think Lee has made a gross mistake, and that he will be severely punished for it . . . . I have the plans of the rebels, and will catch them in their own trap” (McPherson, 109).

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The Special Order itself detailed a specific outline of how Lee intended to divide the army and send specific units to different towns in Maryland and West Virginia. Mclellan later, after hours of deliberation and planning, decided to send the first Union troops to intercept Lee’s divided army at the southern border 18 hours after receiving the Special Order. It was in the 18 hours that passed, that Robert E. Lee learned of the missing documents and scrambled to unite the troops he had previously divided. Mclellan’s decision to mobilize his troops so long after the discovery of the order enabled the southern troops to fight as a united front which then resulted in massive casualties on both sides. The significance of coming across Special Order 191 is seen through the result of the battle ending in a stalemate which then allowed Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation shortly after.

The Second Battle of Bull Run was a pivotal point in the Civil War because it forced the Union to recognize the great action that needed to be taken in the following battle. The Second Battle of Bull Run took place in Manassas, where the First Battle of Bull Run had taken place. Union forces were divided to progress offensively into northern Virginia while still protecting Washington. Lincoln and General- in- chief Halleck decided to divert half of Mclellan’s forces of the Potomac to aid Pope’s troops’ progression into Virginia. As Union forces began to gather to assist on the offensive front towards the Confederate capital, Richmond, Commander Robert E. Lee sent half of “Stonewall” Jackson’s units to intercept Pope’s troops before they could unite with Mclellan’s and attack Richmond. This took place in the Manassas Junction and took the Federals by surprise because Pope assumed that the movement of Lee’s forces was targeted to the Shenandoah Valley, and was also unaware of Longstreet’s corps’ movement to aid Jackson in the assault. With several failed attempts by Union forces to make the rebels retreat and with significant casualties on both sides, the movement of a few Confederate brigades led Pope to believe that they were falling back ensuring a Federal Victory. However, this was not the case and the troops faced counter-attacks to their own which resulted in being surrounded from three different Confederate troops forcing Pope to retreat to defend Washington.

The outcomes that followed The Battle of Antietam were clearly contingent to not only what happened at Antietam, but also the imperative events prior to the battle. Prior to Antietam, The Second Battle of Bull Run was fought in August of 1862. Although this significant battle resulted in a loss for the Union, it showed the determination that the Union had for a win over the Confederacy in order to prevent the south from advancing their military powers and recognizing themselves as an independent nation. If the Union and Confederacy had never gone to fight at Antietam, things would be all around different whether it was the Confederate southern states being able to recognize themselves as an independent nation or the Emancipation Proclamation never being approved. The Union loss at The Second Battle of Bull run showed the northern states and the Union how immensely high of a risk their nation was at if they were not able to gain a victory over the Confederates. Next, the cut relations between Britain and France, and the Confederacy was contingent to the morals of the Union during the civil war and battle at Antietam. Prior and during the civil war, Britain and France relied immensely on the cotton production in the Confederate southern states, and the Confederate states relied on the economical support from Britain and France from their trading of the cotton.

The south wanted the north to see how independent they were, and hoped that the economical support they were receiving would bolster their power over the north. In July of 1861, the Union imposed blockades at Confederate ports which cut off the trading of cotton and materials that would have helped the Confederates financially and supported their military goals. If this blockade had not of occurred prior to Antientam, the confederates would have had a stronger military based power and potentially could have beaten the Union. Lastly, and most importantly, the outcome of the Emancipation Proclamation after The Battle of Antietam was immensely contingent on what happened during the war. Prior to Antietam, President Abraham Lincoln was wanting to issue the Emancipation Proclamation which would free all slaves, but did not quite have the confidence in administering it at that point in time. Because of the Union victory at Antietam, it halted Confederate Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the north, and as professor Hacker stated in lecture, “It gave President Lincoln the victory he needed for the Emancipation Proclamation” (Hacker, Dec.10). The Emancipation Proclamation not only was able to stop Great Britain and France from recognizing the Confederacy as a separate nation (Hacker, Dec.10), but it had also turned the civil war from a war to preserve the union to a war to abolish slavery (Hacker, Dec.10). These critical outcomes were heavily contingent on what had happened prior and during the battle at Antietam.

, written by historian James McPherson, represents a theme of contingency. McPherson describes contingency as “the recognition that at numerous critical points during the war things might have gone altogether differently.” That being said, critical events and decisions like The Battle of Bull Run, Special Order: 191, and the Emancipation Proclamation, are important factors that contributed to the outcome of Antietam. Although some may disagree, I argue that James McPherson’s book Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam represents a theme of contingency regarding the Battle of Antietam. This is due to the crucial actions and decisions leading up to and during the war that influenced and swayed the outcome.

The Civil War was contingent on accidents, such as the discovery of Special Order 191, made during The Battle of Antietam. As Major Mclellan’s Union troops were preparing for the impending battle against Commander Robert E. Lee’s Confederate troops, Union soldiers Corporal Barton W. Mitchell and Sergeant John M. Bloss came across an envelope that contained Special Order: 191, which encompassed documents that described the plans Lee’s troops were going to be using during battle. With the discovery of this new information, Major Mclellan was confident that the Union would make vital progress in both the war and the upcoming battle. Mclellan informed President Lincoln about the discovery stating that “I think Lee has made a gross mistake, and that he will be severely punished for it . . . . I have the plans of the rebels, and will catch them in their own trap” (McPherson, 109).

The Special Order itself detailed a specific outline of how Lee intended to divide the army and send specific units to different towns in Maryland and West Virginia. Mclellan later, after hours of deliberation and planning, decided to send the first Union troops to intercept Lee’s divided army at the southern border 18 hours after receiving the Special Order. It was in the 18 hours that passed, that Robert E. Lee learned of the missing documents and scrambled to unite the troops he had previously divided. Mclellan’s decision to mobilize his troops so long after the discovery of the order enabled the southern troops to fight as a united front which then resulted in massive casualties on both sides. The significance of coming across Special Order 191 is seen through the result of the battle ending in a stalemate which then allowed Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation shortly after.

The Second Battle of Bull Run was a pivotal point in the Civil War because it forced the Union to recognize the great action that needed to be taken in the following battle. The Second Battle of Bull Run took place in Manassas, where the First Battle of Bull Run had taken place. Union forces were divided to progress offensively into northern Virginia while still protecting Washington. Lincoln and General- in- chief Halleck decided to divert half of Mclellan’s forces of the Potomac to aid Pope’s troops’ progression into Virginia. As Union forces began to gather to assist on the offensive front towards the Confederate capital, Richmond, Commander Robert E. Lee sent half of “Stonewall” Jackson’s units to intercept Pope’s troops before they could unite with Mclellan’s and attack Richmond. This took place in the Manassas Junction and took the Federals by surprise because Pope assumed that the movement of Lee’s forces was targeted to the Shenandoah Valley, and was also unaware of Longstreet’s corps’ movement to aid Jackson in the assault. With several failed attempts by Union forces to make the rebels retreat and with significant casualties on both sides, the movement of a few Confederate brigades led Pope to believe that they were falling back ensuring a Federal Victory. However, this was not the case and the troops faced counter-attacks to their own which resulted in being surrounded from three different Confederate troops forcing Pope to retreat to defend Washington.

The outcomes that followed The Battle of Antietam were clearly contingent to not only what happened at Antietam, but also the imperative events prior to the battle. Prior to Antietam, The Second Battle of Bull Run was fought in August of 1862. Although this significant battle resulted in a loss for the Union, it showed the determination that the Union had for a win over the Confederacy in order to prevent the south from advancing their military powers and recognizing themselves as an independent nation. If the Union and Confederacy had never gone to fight at Antietam, things would be all around different whether it was the Confederate southern states being able to recognize themselves as an independent nation or the Emancipation Proclamation never being approved. The Union loss at The Second Battle of Bull run showed the northern states and the Union how immensely high of a risk their nation was at if they were not able to gain a victory over the Confederates. Next, the cut relations between Britain and France, and the Confederacy was contingent to the morals of the Union during the civil war and battle at Antietam. Prior and during the civil war, Britain and France relied immensely on the cotton production in the Confederate southern states, and the Confederate states relied on the economical support from Britain and France from their trading of the cotton.

The south wanted the north to see how independent they were, and hoped that the economical support they were receiving would bolster their power over the north. In July of 1861, the Union imposed blockades at Confederate ports which cut off the trading of cotton and materials that would have helped the Confederates financially and supported their military goals. If this blockade had not of occurred prior to Antientam, the confederates would have had a stronger military based power and potentially could have beaten the Union. Lastly, and most importantly, the outcome of the Emancipation Proclamation after The Battle of Antietam was immensely contingent on what happened during the war. Prior to Antietam, President Abraham Lincoln was wanting to issue the Emancipation Proclamation which would free all slaves, but did not quite have the confidence in administering it at that point in time. Because of the Union victory at Antietam, it halted Confederate Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the north, and as professor Hacker stated in lecture, “It gave President Lincoln the victory he needed for the Emancipation Proclamation” (Hacker, Dec.10). The Emancipation Proclamation not only was able to stop Great Britain and France from recognizing the Confederacy as a separate nation (Hacker, Dec.10), but it had also turned the civil war from a war to preserve the union to a war to abolish slavery (Hacker, Dec.10). These critical outcomes were heavily contingent on what had happened prior and during the battle at Antietam.

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"Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam" Book Review
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It can be questioned whether or not the book Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, written by historian James McPherson, represents a theme of contingency. McPherson describes contingency as “the recognition that at numerous critical points during the war things might have gone altogether differently.” That being said, critical events and decisions like The Battle of Bull Run, Special Order: 191, and the Emancipation Proclamation, are important factors that contributed to the outcome of Antietam.
2021-12-21 07:52:17
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