Review: Tom Hicklin's "Road to Antietam"

Title: Road to Antietam

Author: Tom E. Hicklin

Buy it on Amazon. (Available for Kindle and in hard copy.)

In a nutshell: Lovingly researched and historically accurate in details, Road to Antietam features strong and well-crafted characters and realistic battle scenes.

I’ve been interested in the American Civil War since high school, especially the Eastern Theater and the Army of the Potomac’s Second Corps. So when I had the opportunity to read Tom Hicklin’s newly released Road to Antietam about the 8th Ohio Infantry, I jumped at the chance.

And the book did not disappoint.

The 8th Ohio Infantry, which is honored by monuments at Gettysburg and at Antietam as well as by an inscription on the Civil War Monument in downtown Cleveland, had a storied history making it entirely worthy of a book-length treatment in and of itself. Organized from the northern part of the state in 1861, the regiment saw service in the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign and thereafter fought at nearly every major battle in the Eastern Theater with the Army of the Potomac from Antietam onward, finally mustering out in July 1864. Not surprisingly given the number of engagements it saw, the 8th lost eight officers and 124 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded in battle.

Hicklin’s book follows two fictional brothers, Daniel and Chris Galloway, from their enlistment and early days at Camp Dennison to the bloody battlefield of Antietam. Many Civil War soldiers set off to war ill-prepared to “see the elephant,” and the Galloway brothers are no exception. The adventure quickly turns into cold hard reality, and Hicklin deftly demonstrates the horrors of war accurately and starkly while avoiding the temptation to fall into melodrama or indulging in overly grisly details of the battlefield deaths which would turn away readers.

(That being said, this novel is intended for adults and includes realistic depictions of war.)

What makes this book outstanding is the characters and the way Hicklin perfectly captures the innocence of the generation who marched off to fight in the bloodiest war in American history. Although the brothers share experiences and similarities, Hicklin is careful to make them each individuals with their own character arcs. Daniel, older and more mature, wants to impress the hard-nosed father of the girl he hopes to marry; Christopher, younger and more impulsive, seeks glory. The way the brothers cope with what they experience and see gives the novel depth and gravitas, and the novel has a “coming of age” feel which is more commonly found in New Adult literature versus straight Historical Fiction.

Of course, there is plenty of history to be had and with a good balance between battle and camp scenes, the book flows well and keeps the reader’s attention. If this novel has a flaw, it may be that it covers too much time and it might lean toward being too detailed for the general audience. This is a “flaw,” however, that history buffs will see as an asset. 

Other than the characters, the other great strength of Road to Antietam is the way it immerses the reader in the Civil War. Hicklin did his homework; this novel shows an attention to detail that is impressive.

With its close focus on the common soldier and its ability to carry the reader back in time with realistic dialogue, settings, and characters, Road to Antietam is a novel which compares favorably to classics like The Red Badge of Courage or All Quiet on the Western Front, and it deserves a much wider audience than “just” Civil War buffs.

Recommended to: Readers who enjoy reading about the common soldier; historical fiction fans; Civil War buffs; anyone who is interested in an excellent and accurate portrayal of the American Civil War.