The first speaker was Russel Beatie and he covered the corps structure in the Army of the Potomac from the its beginnings through the battle of Gettysburg with some discussion of how it would look on the eve of the 1864 Virginia campaign.
Beatie said a few things I do not agree with, that's the beauty of an event like this, you can talk to him immediately about why he came to conclusions he did. The first thing he said I didn't agree with is that Lincoln was an "abomination as a military president." I think Lincoln did struggle figuring out how to be commander in chief, trying to be hands off at times but then thinking he needed to very hands on at other times. I'm not going to say he didn't make mistakes but he did pilot the Union to victory. Might it have come sooner if he made some better decisions? Possibly. Beatie pointed out that giving army commands to Pope, Hooker and Burnside showed Lincoln's poor personnel decisions, but on the other hand when he made those decisions he did not have a huge pool of leaders to choose from. Beatie also said that only experience identifies people who are qualified; Lincoln never figured it out while Grant and Meade did. Again, I don't think this is a 100% fair attack on Lincoln as some of his greater blunders in picking leaders came early in the war when the level of experience was low across the board. As the war progresses he does pick Meade and Grant for higher commands, so if Grant and Meade are his examples of leaders who picked good subordinates than shouldn't Lincoln get some credit for putting those two men in high command?
One thing Beatie said that I found somewhat funny is that Burnside was the worst performance at Antietam. I found this humorous because I don't agree with him, but also because the next presenter, Stephen Recker, said that Burnside was the hero of Antietam since he was the only corps commander to take the position he was ordered to take.
Recker used a prototype of Virtual Antietam during his presentation (Virtual Gettysburg is already done and sold well at the event) and it was amazing to see. If my own budget wasn't so tight right now I probably would have left with a copy of Virtual Gettysburg and had my name on a list for Virtual Antietam.
He focused on Burnside's final attack, calling it the Pickett's Charge of Antietam. Basing this on numbers involved and the ground covered. Another thing he said was that if the Union had captured Nicodemus Heights on the 16th there probably would not have been a battle at all. He thought this was probably the lost opportunity of the battle.
Next up was Bradley Gottfried who went through the best and worst performing brigades at Gettysburg. There were many reasons a brigade might fall into either category. They might benefit from a strong position on the ground, or have high moral. Or they might be fresh troops, attacking a tough position, or their commander might not be very good.
The slides moved too quick for me to take copious notes of the good and bad brigades but I did manage to write a few down. Gottfried gave high marks to Perrin, Vincent, Stannard, McCandless, Greene and the Iron Brigade. Some of the poor performers were Mahone, Smith, Fisher, Brockenbrough, Ames and von Gilsa.
Lance Herdegen then talked about the Iron Brigade from their inception through Gettysburg. This was a talk I was looking forward to as my family is all from Wisconsin and I've always enjoyed reading about the Iron Brigade's exploits. So I mostly sat back and soaked it all in and took very few notes. Luckily the college was videotaping the entire day so later I might be able to post some clips here.
Our final presenter was Tim Smith, a Western Theater historian who also has done a ton of work on the history of preservation and the formation of the battlefields into national parks. The method of preservation at Antietam, mainly buying roadways and not much other land, is usually called the Antietam Plan but Smith argues that it should be called the Chattanooga Plan as that is where it was first implemented. At Chattanooga it was the method used mostly because there were few large tracts left to buy in the 1890s, the town had grown over the battlefield already, while at Antietam the decision was based more on financial concerns. The other main method in the 1890s was buying close to 100% of the battlefield, as was done at Chickamauga (and later at Shiloh). Gettysburg was a bit of a hybrid of both methods as there are areas that large chunks of land were purchased and there are other areas were small strips were purchased.