Sealed with Their Lives: The Battle of Crampton's Gap

by Timothy J. Reese, Baltimore, Butternut & Blue, 1998

McClellan's famous Maryland Campaign of 1862 is subsumed in the dramatic but anticlimactic victory of Antietam, with works on the other battles appearing rarely. An incredibly sophisticated study, this small press offering proposes that there would have been no battle at Antietam had Crampton's Gap, McClellan's "masterstroke," not misfired. This is the first account of the battle published and the author's command of detail and nuance set standards for the general field. This is analysis, campaign history, and an account of battle, all in proportion. It is charming and impressive and it weighs in at over 400 pages!

A Burkittsville resident, Smithsonian staffer, and student of the battle since 1985, author Timothy J. Reese offers an extensive corrective to the cliched view of the battle as an attempt to relieve the Harper's Ferry garrison. He weaves in a deep appreciation of McClellan's grand-tactical judgements and operational insights in ways that should, by rights, change what we think and how we think about about Maryland in 1862 and what we think about the way McClellan visualized battles. Sealed with their Lives goes far in providing us with the true purpose of Crampton's Gap, McClellan's plan, the context for the battle and almost everything we would want to know about the bloody event. What we do not get, and it is a big loss, is an understanding of General Franklin, his letdown of McClellan (and of Colonel Miles), his recalcitrance, and most important, what it was that he thought he was doing during and after the battle. Perhaps it will take a Franklin biography to clear this up.

Author Reese is so far removed from Franklin's thinking that he gives strength figures for Franklin's command which in no way agree with Franklin's own numbers. I would have liked to see such figures sourced and the discrepancy addressed. Another quibble with Reese is in his insistence that McClellan should have been at Crampton's Gap the entire battle and he should have supervised Franklin personally throughout. This is a way of underlining the importance of the battle but it is overreaching. The forces committed to the battle were small compared to the battles at Fox's and Turner's Gaps and the whole point of committing a key role to your most trusted subordinate is that he is your most trusted subordinate.

This study views Crampton's Gap as McClellan's attempt to maximize the benefit of the Lost Orders by destroying Lee's army piecemeal. It demonstrates a tactical sophistication in McClellan that is rarely credited. It regards Antietam and a bloody footnote to the more important battle directed by McClellan and waged by Franklin. For these and other reasons, this is a unique and important volume.


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(c) 1999 The McClellan Society