Book Review: Such a Clash of Arms: The Maryland Campaign, September 1862 (Casemate Illustrated)


by Pawlak, Kevin R.

Havertown, Pa.: Casemate, 2023. 128. Illus., maps, chron., order of battle, recommended reading. $24.99 paper. ISBN:978-1-6362-4266-8

Lee’s First Invasion of the North

In Such a Clash of Arms, Kevin R. Pawlak offers a concise overview of the Maryland campaign of 1862, complete with the admirable inclusion of numerous brief vignettes and pictures. There is nothing ground breaking or controversial about the narrative. Pawlak’s book is in line with the theme of the “Casemate Illustrated Specials” series, a relatively recent arrival to the military history scene, offering concise summaries of important military campaigns; those acquainted with Osprey’s “Campaign Series” will find the approach and presentation somewhat familiar.

Within those parameters, there are a few points to highlight with Pawlak’s work. After a brief introduction, the narrative proceeds purely chronologically. One of the strengths of the book is the balance between events – this is not just an account of Antietam with some rushed summaries of surrounding actions thrown in. Pawlak does a credible job of looking at the trajectory of events from the first week of September through Lee’s return to Virginia three weeks later, considering each and every step of the way as its own unique aspect of the campaign. The reader is able to see, albeit in concise form, the connection between the various events and engagements along the way.

There is not a great deal of analysis in this trajectory, however. While the discussion and description of the key battles of the campaign – from the fights at South Mountain to Harper’s Ferry, Antietam itself, Shepherdstown, and the numerous cavalry skirmishes throughout – are sound, well-directed and informative, Pawlak does not delve deeply into the specifics of each engagement and doesn't assess the reasons events played out the way they did. As noted above, though, with a balanced description of events the resulting narrative provides an integrated and useful overview of the entire campaign.

The layout and presentation of the material is logical and clear. The images that are included are of high quality, mixing both historical representation of the people and events depicted, and modern pictures of what the terrain looks like now. There are a number of cut-away vignettes throughout, considering profiles of key leaders (e.g. Federal Generals Edwin Sumner and Ambrose Burnside and Confederate General James Longstreet), informational aspects of the battle, and an Order of Battle for Antietam. The maps included are sound, if only detailed to the corps and division level, with the exception of the more-detailed Shepherdstown map. The only notable exception to this, however is the lack of a South Mountain map, other than a general “Approaches to…”.

Pawlak clearly understands the campaign quite well, and this work pairs well with some of his other contributions to the topic, such as his To Hazard All guidebook (co-written with Robert Orrison). Those interested in visiting the environs of the Maryland Campaign, will find the pairing of these two works may provide a concise yet comprehensive guide for their expedition. For the reader who already has a clear understanding of the Maryland Campaign, there will not be much new information here – any value to one familiar with the campaign will be in the “big picture” presentation of the intersectionality of the events in the campaign, and some of the included photographs in preparation for a visit to the area. For those with only a limited understanding of September, 1862, however, Such A Clash of Arms can offer a succinct and useful foundation.

Our Reviewer: Dr. Michael Boden teaches global and Civil War history at Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, NY. A retired Army Veteran, he is a former Assistant Professor of History at West Point, and is on the Board of Trustees of the Dutchess County Historical Society, where he is currently researching the history of the county's Soldiers in the Civil War.

Reviewer: Dr. Michael Boden   

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