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Sounding the Shallows: A Confederate Companion for the Maryland Campaign of 1862, by Joseph L. Harsh, The Kent State University Press, Ohio, 2000, $18 (paper).


Joseph L. Harsh, a history professor at George Mason University, recently published Taken at the Flood, a thought-provoking dissection of Confederate strategy in the 1862 Maryland campaign. As Harsh poked and prodded through primary sources for material for that fine book, he shook loose hundreds of interesting facts–historical nuggets that he meticulously catalogued and used as he wrote.

Harsh has wisely decided to publish the treasure trove of statistics and insights germane to the campaign in Sounding the Shallows, and the wealth of interesting detail in the book is impressive. The opening section, for example, contains daily weather data for the month of September 1862, compiled largely from the logbooks of the Frederick, Md., weather station, and humanized when possible by soldier accounts. On the day of the Battle of Antietam, September 17, for instance, the high was 74.5 degrees, and a soldier of Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill’s division commented that the day was “clear and beautiful, with scarcely a cloud in the sky.”

Another chapter of the book delves into reorganizations that took place in the Army of Northern Virginia before, during or immediately after the campaign. Other tables look at the combat experience of the various Confederate fighting units.

The “Gazetteer for the Maryland Campaign of 1862,” wherein Harsh presents
statistical data for the Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania counties impacted by the campaign, is a particularly fascinating component of the volume. Figures concerning population density, slave ownership, banking, and agricultural and industrial wealth are all laid out in tables that are easy to read and understand. Readers will discover that Washington County, Md., the setting for the Battle of Antietam, was a prosperous agricultural region. That wealth, it might be noted, was reflected in the large homes that dotted the battlefield and the abundance of graceful stone bridges that spanned Antietam Creek–one of which would become an icon for the horrible engagement.

Sounding the Shallows is a gem of a book. With any luck, other historians will follow Harsh’s example and produce similar compendiums for other campaigns.

Dana B. Shoaf