by Jim Murphy
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009. 102 pgs. Juvenile Nonfiction
Though the battle of Gettysburg gets the most attention, the battle of Antietam was actually the bloodiest single day of fighting in the Civil War and, in fact, in the history of American warfare. Although Murphy's book begins fairly slowly as General McClellan's forces move into position to meet the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Robert E. Lee, the reader is soon in the thick of the battle with Union and Confederate soldiers mowing each other down like reapers with scythes. Murphy does his usual expert job of providing a clear and cogent overview of the whole battlefield, interspersed with anecdotes about and quotations from actual participants. The North "won" the day because they had more troops, but since General McClellan in his usual timorous fashion thought that the South had more troops (and neglected to send out patrols to find out how many Rebel soldiers there were), he failed to press his advantage and thereby lengthened the war by two years or more. "A Savage Thunder" is a powerful, beautiful, terrible story complemented by photographs that were the first ever taken on a battlefield before the dead were buried. I wish I had read this book before I visited the Antietam National Battlefield--it would have given me a better understanding of the sacred, sacrificial spirit that fills that place. Highly recommended for sixth grade and up.