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Civil War Round Table of Kansas City

John Michael Priest Bio

A retired high school history teacher, John Michael Priest has been interested in Civil War history since an early age. He is a graduate of Loyola College in Baltimore and Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, and has written extensively about the Civil War. 

His many books include Antietam: The Soldiers’ Battle (1989); Before Antietam: The Battle for South Mountain (1992); Nowhere to Run: The Wilderness, May 4th & 5th, 1864 (1995); Victory Without Triumph: The Wilderness, May 6th & 7th, 1864 (1996); and Into the Fight: Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg (1998). Praised by legendary historian Edwin C. Bearss as the “Ernie Pyle” of the Civil War soldier, Priest appeared on the Discovery Channel’s Unsolved History: Pickett’s Charge (2002), and is one of the historical consultants for the forthcoming miniseries To Appomattox.

His newest work, Stand to It and Give Them Hell! chronicles the fighting on July 2, 1863 from Cemetery Ridge to Little Round Top from the perspectives of the soldiers who fought the battle.

Overview of the Book: Before Antietam: The Battle for South Mountain

The following is a summary of John Michael Priest's book from the Amazon website:

Civil War buffs and scholars quickly recognize the dates of September 16-18, 1862 as the period marking the bloodiest battle of the entire campaign - Antietam. But until now, the ten days prior to that event have remained in relative obscurity. In Before Antietam, John Michael Priest offers the first book-length, tactical exploration of the Maryland campaign and the Battles of South Mountain, describing the decisive events leading up to the famous battle and elevating them from mere footnote status to a matter of military record.

Chronicling Robert E. Lee's turnabout from defensive maneuvers to full scale Confederate invasion into Maryland, Priest demonstrates how this tactical change brought about a series of engagements near Sharpsburg, Maryland that came to be known as "The Battle of South Mountain", in which the Federal and Confederate forces struggled fiercely over Union territory. It was here that George B. McClellan, the new Northern commander, led his Army of the Potomac to its first victory over Lee in a furious action that produced one of the war's few successful bayonet charges. Written from the perspective of the front line combatants (and civilian observers), the book recounts the Confederate invasion and the Federal pursuit into Sharpsburg that set the stage for Antietam. From September 5-15, a total of twenty-five skirmishes and three pitched battles were fought.

Priest provides graphic descriptions of the terrible conditions surrounding these events and so thoroughly enters into the common soldier's viewpoint that military history quickly gives way to gritty realism. He vividly shows that, had Robert E. Lee not been bested at the gaps along South Mountain, there would have been no Antietam. Lee's decision to make a stand along Antietam Creek was a point of pride — he had never been "whipped" before and would not return to Virginia defeated. That decision was a fateful one, since the sparring and fighting drove him into an untenable position that became his downfall. Priest's revealing narrative establishes that, at this stage of the Civil War, the Federal cavalry was better equipped and just as well trained as the Confederate cavalry, thereby settling a point of debate among historians.

Scholars and Civil War buffs alike will applaud the efforts of John Michael Priest in bringing us the means to view those devastating encounters from a true military perspective.

Civil War Round Table of Kansas City
P.O. Box 6202
Shawnee Mission, KS 66206

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