Ohio at Antietam with Dan Welch

     “Ohioans are everywhere at Antietam. They are like the Forrest Gump regiments of the battle,” quipped author Dan Welch recently. “Ohio units fight at all the critical areas of the field: the West Woods, Dunker Church, Bloody Lane, Lower Bridge, and even blunting the final Confederate attack by Hill's troops. This alone makes their story not only compelling but unique as well.”

An educator with a passion for Civil War history, Welch recently collaborated on a book entitled Ohio at Antietam with Certified Antietam Battlefield Guide Kevin Pawlak. Released through the History Press, Ohio at Antietam examines the role of several Buckeye regiments in the Maryland Campaign with an emphasis on using first-hand accounts to tell the story. It’s a superb little volume with about 120 pages of text, perfect for packing in your backpack to take along on a battlefield hike. Featuring dozens of rarely seen wartime images along with clear maps from Edward Alexander, Welch and Pawlak’s work follows in the spiritual vein of Richard A. Baumgartner’s Buckeye Blood: Ohio at Gettysburg (Blue Acorn Press, 2003) and gives readers a concise view of the contributions of the Buckeye state in this pivotal eastern theater battle.

With the 159th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam this week, I sat down with Dan Welch to discuss his new book and gain some further insight into his passion for telling the story of the eastern theater Buckeyes.


Ohio at Antietam is available through Arcadia Publishing here, or through Amazon here,  or direct from the author. 

Please give me some life background on yourself: where are you from, where did you attend school including college, current life situation and employment.

I'm currently a primary and secondary educator with a public school district in northeast Ohio. Previously, I worked as the Education Programs Coordinator for the Gettysburg Foundation, the non-profit partner of Gettysburg National Military Park. I also continue to serve as a seasonal Park Ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park. I received his BA in Instrumental Music Education from Youngstown State University and a MA in Military History with a Civil War Era concentration at American Military University. I also studied under the tutelage of Dr. Allen C. Guelzo as part of the Gettysburg Semester at Gettysburg College. I've been a contributing member at Emerging Civil War for over six years and am the author or  co-author on numerous books, articles, and essays. I am a proud native of Youngstown, Ohio and continue to live and work in the Mahoning Valley. I am also the biggest Lynyrd Skynryd fan you will ever meet. When not working, writing, or tramping on battlefields, my wife Sarah and our three Labrador retrievers occupy the rest of my time.


What sparked your interest in the Civil War?

My spark for Civil War history is a very common story for folks interested in this era. My parents took the family to Gettysburg on vacation when I was just 5 years old. My father's parents had taken him there for the first time around that age as well, sort of a rite of passage for the Welches. At 5, with a toy musket and kepi, my dad loosely narrating what happened on those fields it came to life. It was an interest that stuck with me through college and has only deepened since. 


Ohio at Antietam is a collaborative effort between yourself and Kevin Pawlak just released through The History Press. How did the two of you hit upon the idea of creating a work on the Buckeye state at Antietam?

Kevin and I have been great friends for years. I highly respect him as a historian in all aspects, his research skills, his keen analysis, and excellent writing. My long-term association with Gettysburg mirrors Kevin's with Antietam. I proposed the idea to him, me bringing my knowledge of Ohioans during the war and the sources that are extant regarding their experience and his second-to-none knowledge of the Maryland campaign. He agreed and off we were, despite him being a Buffalo Bills fan and native New Yorker.


How does your volume differ from the Ohio at Antietam volume published back in the early 1900s by the Ohio Antietam Commission?

The commission's work that was published around the turn of the century was really a history of their work on securing land and having monuments built to the Ohio units that fought during the battle. It also contains all of the speeches and remarks given at Ohio Day at Antietam, which was the day that all Ohio monuments on the battlefield were dedicated. 


What is it about the story of Buckeyes at Antietam that makes their experiences unique or compelling?

Ohioans are everywhere at Antietam. They are like the Forrest Gump regiments of the battle. Ohio units fight at all the critical areas of the field, the West Woods, Dunker Church, Bloody Lane, Lower Bridge, and even blunting the final Confederate attack by Hill's troops. This alone makes their story not only compelling but unique as well.  


Author Dan Welch during a visit to Colonel Rufus Dawes' grave. Dawes, a Marietta, Ohio native, went on to command the 6th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade. Rufus' brother Ephraim served with the 53rd Ohio and left a jaw dropping account of his experiences at Shiloh. 

How did you go about conducting the research for this book? Any great research stories from the road or from the field?

Research for this book was a pain to say the least. We had just gotten approved for the book through History Press just a handful of weeks before the world shut down, including all research repositories. We had to push back the due date of the book several times because we could not access what we needed to make a compelling narrative. Once things did start opening again, research was mostly done by email with archivists because their sites were still not open. An email at a time, back and forth, was a very slow and tedious process. Thankfully we had some amazing archivists step up for us to get what we needed. We could not have done this without them. 


What was your favorite part of the research and publishing process? Least favorite?

My favorite part of this process by far was finding images of soldiers we wrote about that have not been previously published or long unseen. It's exciting to bring their likeness back into print. Least favorite about this process, trying to research during a global pandemic. 


One of the things I most enjoyed about the book was its narrative style drawing heavily from first-hand accounts to let the soldiers tell the story. The stories are eminently readable and don't go so far into the weeds that the average reader gets lost. How did you arrive at this approach? Do you see modern scholarship returning more towards narrative accounts, or is the trend more towards analysis of those original documents?

I love reading narrative histories. As an interpreter at Gettysburg, my job is to tell compelling stories that will create new stewards of that place and its stories out of audience members. Narrative history strikes a balance between telling great stories that are easy to follow and understand, that are compelling, and also explain at a higher altitude the actions that are taking place on the battlefield around these individuals. One of the strengths of Kevin and I is our experience at telling narrative history which makes this book a really strong work. Because of our prior knowledge doing this type of history it's where we landed on the style for the book. I do hope more scholarship returns back to this style as it is not only compelling  but accessible to many more audiences. I unfortunately only see a wider divide growing between academic works, and works by public historians that often use those first-person accounts to drive their narrative.  


Ohioans in the Army of the Potomac were definitely in the minority when compared to troops from New York, Pennsylvania, and New England; they oftentimes were referred to disparagingly as Westerners and the men often decried the lack of coverage the Eastern newspapers gave to their battlefield achievements. Which Ohio regiment at Antietam do you think is the most underappreciated, and perhaps is deserving of a second look by modern scholars?

I would say it is a tie. The Buckeyes in Tyndale's brigade deserve a deep dive as well as Crook's brigade. Both these units get lost in the larger story of Antietam, and with the dearth of sources for each, it's even more challenging to get their actions at Antietam brought to the fore. 


Ohio at Antietam examines the battle from the point of view of five actions related to the Maryland campaign: Fox Gap/South Mountain, Tyndale's assault through the Miller Cornfield and into the West Woods, the 8th Ohio attack on the Sunken Road, then over on the Union left, the assaults of Crook's and Ewing's brigades. Can you speak a bit about each of these engagements, and any special challenges each posed in telling the story?

I'm not known for brevity so I'll do my best to summarize succinctly on this one. The actions at Fox's Gap and South Mountain for Ohio really comprise the two brigades of Kanawha Division of the 9th Corps. They have an incredibly significant role in the fighting, in particular against some tough North Carolina regiments under the command of Samuel Garland. Tyndale's brigade brings a much-needed boost of reinforcements and fire power to the field at the right time and the right place. They help mop up the final phases of fighting in the Miller Cornfield and then push on towards the fighting at the West Woods, really shoring up that advanced part of the Union line. An incredible performance by this brigade.

The 8th Ohio will attack the Sunken Road with the other units of Israel Richardson's men. The 8th will also block a disjointed and small Confederate counterattack that approached their fallback position from the west. Crook's and Ewing's brigades will participate in the assaults to get over the lower bridge, and once the beachhead so to speak was established, will participate in stopping the last Confederate attack from Hill's recently-arrived troops.

The three special challenges we came across regarded Tyndale, Crook, and the 8th. For Tyndale and Crook's actions it was because of the dearth of primary sources. Yes the officer's reports are available but they are very short with not much detail, so finding new primary source materials to reinterpret their actions was a challenge. The challenge with the 8th's story was due to years of over simplification and a failure to look at what they did following their time at the Sunken Road. Because of that we had to tread a lot of new ground to interpret their movements and actions which made it a unique challenge.


Best Buckeye performance at Antietam? Worst performance?

Man, this is like asking for your favorite children out of all of them! You say you love them all equally but you really have a favorite. The 8th certainly took heavy casualties for part of the larger attack on the Sunken Road and a small counterattack that came from the west of their position. Worst? I'd phrase it as needed to be more vigorous on the field and that would be Crook's brigade.  

One of my favorite if lesser-known Civil War generals was G. Hector Tyndale who led the brigade consisting of the 5th, 7th, and 66th Ohio regiments along with his own 28th Pennsylvania at Antietam-his attack was one of the most successful Union assaults at Antietam as far as ground covered. Could you explain how it was that a Pennsylvania lieutenant colonel became a brigade commander just days before the battle? And what is your assessment of Tyndale's leadership on September 17, 1862?

A command vacuum that had occurred in that corps had left a need for a new brigade commander, and, Tyndale, the most senior officer in his brigade took command. Tyndale's leadership is one of the under-appreciated stories from that day. He is constantly in contact with his brigade, often at the front, expecting needs before they arise, such as resupply of ammunition. He moves his men with expert command and control and alacrity. Not bad for having not commanded a brigade before!

Now that you have Ohio at Antietam completed, what are you looking at for future projects?

I still have several projects that I am under the deadline gun for. The next volume in the Emerging Civil War 10th Anniversary Series, which will focus on the theme of Lee Vs. Grant, I will be reprising my role as co-editor. Speaking of ECW, I am working on a book on the battle of Second Manassas for the ECW Series of publications. I'm very excited to be nearing the end of a project with Ted Savas as my co-author. This will be a critical bibliography of Civil War books mostly spanning the years of 1997-2015. You are going to see books in there that every Civil War historian and enthusiast should have on their shelf but have never heard of before! My last current project is a pictorial regimental history of the 100th Pennsylvania Infantry, my ancestors' regiment. My co-authors and I have assembled hundreds of images of the men that served in this unit throughout the war. It's going to be awesome when it's done. As far as future projects.....well I have not looked past all of these ones yet! Lol!

How can readers of the blog obtain a copy of Ohio at Antietam?

There are several different ways they can order a copy. You can order directly from the History Press, of course there is that giant online retailer of  which I won't name, or they can send me an email (dwelch1863@gmail.com) and order a copy from me and I will personalize it with an inscription before sending it out. 


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