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Unholy Sabbath: The Battle of South Mountain in History and Memory, September 14, 1862

 Brian Matthew Jordan; Savas Beatie

On September 14, 1862, Union forces in Maryland seized control of three critical passes in South Mountain in a bitter battle long overshadowed by the slaughter that took place three days later at Antietam. South Mountain was the consequence of Robert E. Lee underestimating the speed with which George B. McClellan would be able to reinvigorate Federal forces in the aftermath of Second Manassas and march them out of Washington. The battle bought time for Rebel forces to wrap up an operation at Harpers Ferry, resulting in the surrender of over 12,000 Union troops.

South Mountain and the larger operational context within which it took place has often been inadequately understood, despite scholarship that has reconsidered the campaign, including Joseph Harsh’s 1999 study Taken at the Flood. In Unholy Sabbath, Brian Jordan offers the second book-length study in the past year. The first, by John Hoptak, featured a compelling narrative and analysis. Jordan focuses on placing the battle in a larger political and diplomatic context. Yet there isn’t much of importance on the tactical conduct of the battle here that isn’t addressed in Hoptak’s shorter, more readable study. That said, readers who enjoy detailed battle studies will welcome its appearance and finish it looking forward to future work from its author.


Originally published in the October 2012 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.