Author: Thomas G. Clemens

a retired history professor at Hagerstown Community College, in Hagerstown, Maryland. He is also president of Save Historic Antietam Foundation, Inc., and a tour guide at Antietam National Battlefield, both located in Sharpsburg, Maryland.

Franz Sigel (1824–1902)

Franz Sigel was a Union general during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Born in Germany and a leader of the failed insurrections of 1848, Sigel rallied German-Americans to the Union cause in 1861 with the slogan, “I goes to fight mit Sigel.” As a general, however, he was only modestly successful and his relationship with his superiors was so contentious that he resigned from the army twice before returning; only his ties to the politically important German-American constituency saved him. In addition, those ties allowed him to be promoted to command of the Department of West Virginia in 1864, but he led his troops to a disastrous defeat at the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864, against Confederate forces that included cadets from the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. When a Confederate army under Jubal A. Early was able to reach the outskirts of Washington, D.C., a month later, Sigel was relieved of command and he resigned from the army a year later.


Winfield Scott (1786–1866)

Winfield Scott was a hero of the Mexican War (1846–1848), the last Whig Party candidate for U.S. president, and commanding general of the United States Army at the start of the American Civil War (1861–1865). Known as “Old Fuss and Feathers” for his equal love of discipline and pomp, Scott by 1861 had served in the military for more than fifty years and under fourteen U.S. presidents. He had been severely wounded in battle, avoided several wars with his diplomatic skills, and commanded the army that conquered Mexico City in 1847, all of which made him the most admired and famous soldier in America. Less well known is the fact that Scott was convicted by court-martial for conduct unbecoming an officer, was investigated by a court of inquiry, once was accused of treason, and several times offered his resignation from the army. When the Civil War began, the Dinwiddie County native remained loyal to the Union, and while age had so reduced his once-towering frame that he could no longer even mount a horse, his ego and intellect were still intact. Scott’s Anaconda Plan for winning the war proved to be prescient but politically out of step, and he eventually lost control of the army to George B. McClellan. He soon retired, published a two-volume memoir in 1864, and died in 1866.


George B. McClellan (1826–1885)

George B. McClellan was a major general in the Union army during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Styled the “Young Napoleon” by the press, his battlefield successes and failures were eclipsed by controversies that arose between him and his superiors, especially U.S. president Abraham Lincoln. Following the Union debacle at the First Battle of Manassas in July 1861, McClellan formed and took command of the Army of the Potomac, expertly training it and earning the love and devotion of his men. He led the army first through the unsuccessful Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days’ Battles outside Richmond in 1862, and then through the climactic Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, which forced Confederate general Robert E. Lee to abandon his invasion of the North. Lincoln, however, was dissatisfied with McClellan’s lack of aggression and relieved him of command. McClellan, a Democrat, responded by challenging the Republican president in the 1864 election. It was both the logical culmination of his advocacy for a limited-war strategy, and perhaps the clumsiest confirmation of his critics’ accusations that his military caution was politically motivated. After McClellan lost his run for the presidency, he retired first to Europe and then to New Jersey, where he became governor.


Confederate Battle Flag

The Confederate battle flag, initially authorized for units of the Confederate armed forces during the American Civil War (1861–1865), has become one of the most recognized, misunderstood, and controversial symbols in American history. Originally designed as a Confederate national flag by William Porcher Miles of South Carolina, it was rejected by the Confederate Congress but subsequently adopted by the Confederate army, which needed a banner that was easily distinguishable from the United States flag. The battle flag transformed into a national symbol as the Army of Northern Virginia, with which it was closely associated, also became an important symbol. It even was incorporated into the Confederacy’s second and third national flags. Following the war, proponents of the Lost Cause used the battle flag to represent Southern valor and honor, although it also was implicitly connected to white supremacy. In the mid-twentieth century, the battle flag simultaneously became ubiquitous in American culture while, partly through the efforts of the Ku Klux Klan, becoming increasingly tied to racial violence and intimidation. African Americans conflated the battle flag to opposition to the civil rights movement, while neo-Confederates argued that its meaning had to do with states’ rights and southern identity, not racial hatred. The political and social lines of dispute over the flag remain much the same at the beginning of the twenty-first century.


Maryland Campaign

The Maryland Campaign, which culminated in the Battle of Antietam (fought September 17, 1862, and sometimes referred to as the Battle of Sharpsburg), proved to be one of the most pivotal Union strategic victories of the American Civil War (1861–1865). After successfully beating back the Union army from Richmond in the summer of 1862, Confederate general Robert E. Lee‘s Army of Northern Virginia invaded Maryland. Through the month of September, Lee maneuvered his army north, captured the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry, was driven from the battlefield at South Mountain, and, after a day of furious fighting, retreated from his position astride Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg, Maryland. While pulling back into Virginia, Lee managed to foil Union general George B. McClellan‘s cautious pursuit. McClellan subsequently lost his job, but U.S. president Abraham Lincoln still was able to claim victory, providing him an opportunity to announce his Emancipation Proclamation, which declared free those slaves living in rebellious states. The document dramatically changed the course of the war, making the end of slavery a key Union goal. Due to this political shift, and the reluctance of foreign powers such as Great Britain to endorse a slave nation, the Confederacy never again had such a prime chance for victory.