The Maryland Campaign has always been one of my favorite campaigns in the eastern theater. CSA General Robert E. Lee’s first incursion on northern soil was designed to take advantage of the momentum the Army of Northern Virginia experienced after defeating US Major General John Pope’s Army of Virginia at Second Manassas. Lee believing the northern armies were badly demoralized, disorganized and suffering from a broken command structure felt confident of his success. Additionally Lee, and the Confederate government, believed that a decisive victory on northern soil would impact the fall elections, giving the Peace Democrats more control in the Federal legislature and foreign recognition from France and England. With the hope of adding new recruits to his battered army, he anticipated adding many loyal Marylanders to his army. Crossing the Potomac River, in early September, he would remove the combatants from Northern Virginia bringing some relief to the citizens of Virginia and allowing him to feed his army from the fields of Maryland.
John David Hoptak, a National Park Service Ranger at Antietam, brings his terrific knowledge of the Maryland Campaign to his new book, “Our Boys Did Nobly: Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, Soldiers at the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam.” Hoptak provides a wonderful narrative of the battles of South Mountain and Antietam – many details which I have never read before. While not a complete narrative of these battles, “Our Boys Did Nobly,” provides many new details from these battles that were gathered during years of research. Much of the new information is primary source material, from the soldiers, that has previously been untapped. Hoptak’s book focuses on the soldiers from Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania who fought in the 48th Pennsylvania, 96th Pennsylvania and two companies of the 50th Pennsylvania Infantry. By the fall of 1862 most of the soldiers in these regiments had seen active service in the Carolinas and Virginia. The young men came from farms, coal mines, dry goods stores and colleges. They would fight bravely and many would pay the ultimate sacrifice, for their beloved Country, at Fox’s Gap, Crampton’s Gap and the fields along Antietam Creek. The 48th and 50th Pennsylvania would be assigned to US Major General Ambrose Burnside’s IX Corps and would fight at Fox’s Gap and in Burnside’s attack on the Southern sector of Antietam. Many of the young men would not muster out until the end of the Civil War, participating the the final Grand Review in May 1865. The 96th Pennsylvania would fight in US Major General William Franklin’s VI Corps and were severely punished at Crampton’s Gap. They would muster out of service during US Major General Philip Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Campaign.
For those of you, like me, that have an unquenchable thirst for the Maryland Campaign, this book will be a fascinating page turner, from an expert on Lee’s first invasion of the North. For novice Civil War enthusiasts, the book is written in such a way that is easy to follow, and understand. Written in terrific prose, the book is both fun to read and very detailed. The epilogue provides Hoptak’s report card on the commanding generals and details of McClellan’s missed opportunities. I would definitely recommend that you purchase this book as it will make an excellent addition to your Civil War library.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with John, who being from Schuylkill County, is very passionate about the soldiers from his home. Hoptak provides insights into his research, stories of the soldiers during the Maryland Campaign and his assessment of the overall campaign. As with all of my interviews, I’ve separated it into multiple parts so you can easily listen to them, at your leisure, and come back to the next part when you are ready.
About “Our Boys Did Nobly”
Author: John David Hoptak
Paperback: 358 pages
Distributed by: Ten Roads Publishing, LLC
John David Hoptak Interview – 10 Parts
Total Time: 54 minutes, 53 seconds
Part 1 John Hoptak Interview Part 1
Contents: Welcome and introductions | About John Hoptak | Becoming a Park Ranger at Antietam | Background on “Our Boys Did Nobly” | Distribution by Ten Roads Publishing
Part 2 John Hoptak Interview Part 2
Contents: George B. McClellan – delusional while at Antietam? | The changing view of McClellan over 14 decades
Part 3 John Hoptak Interview Part 3
Contents: The men of Schuylkill County at South Mountain | Redemption of Colonel Henry Cake
Part 4 John Hoptak Interview Part 4
Contents: The 96th loses Captain Lewis Martin and Lt. John Doherty and eight color bearers at Crampton’s Gap | Severe losses of the 96th at Crampton’s Gap | The 48th and 50th Pennsylvania at Fox’s Gap | The loss of US Major General Jesse Reno
Part 5 John Hoptak Interview Part 5
Contents: The maturation of the boys from Schuylkill County | South Mountain a tactical Union victory? | Researching “Our Boys Did Nobly” | New primary source material
Part 6 John Hoptak Interview Part 6
Contents: The 48th Pennsylvania’s surprise after crossing Burnside Bridge | Ambrose Burnside at Antietam
Part 7 John Hoptak Interview Part 7
Contents: Diversion or assault for the IX Corps | Tactical issues involving the IX Corps’ approach to Burnside Bridge | Bravery of the Schuylkill County boys
Part 8 John Hoptak Interview Part 8
Contents: The last charge at Antietam | The forgotten sector of Antietam Battlefield | Robert E. Lee: To fight or not to fight?
Part 9 John Hoptak Interview Part 9
Contents: Army of Northern Virginia faced destruction at Antietam | George B. McClellan’s lost opportunities
Part 10 John Hoptak Interview Part 10
Contents: Future plans and what’s in the works | Wrap up and closing