Thursday, September 20, 2012

Remembering Antietam

**I realize that I've missed the Anniversary by a few days. I regretfully had too much homework to do a proper write-up at the time, but am posting it now.

Antietam. It's the battle I've studied most, but I still get a bit of a gut-wrenching shock when I hear the word. There was so much death in so little time, on so little land. Granted, the entire war was bloody. The entire war was tragic. One casualty is too many, because that's a home without a father or a son or a brother. But at Antietam, 23,000 men fell in under 12 hours.

The eastern edge of the Bloody Cornfield

The sun rose over a heavy fog on September 17th, 1862 in Southern Maryland. By the time it set and the fog had burned off the land, it had taken its place as the bloodiest single day in American history. Between a cornfield, a sunken farm lane, a little church, and a small stone bridge, 23,000 casualties were inflicted between the two sides, leaving both armies badly battered. Tactically it was inconclusive, as neither the attacks nor the defense had gone as planned. Ultimately, George McClellan was able to claim a strategic victory for the Union, as Lee's army would withdraw from Maryland in the days following. Years later, history would regard the Battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg to be a major turning point in the Civil War for having shifted the advantage to the Union, and boosting their flagging morale. It opened the door for Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, changing the very face of the war itself. History's course was altered dramatically, yet again.

Burnside's Bridge, site of the third and final phase of the battle.

As we mark 150 years since that warm September day, I propose that we take just a minute to think of those 23,000 men as more than a number. Some fought for ideals while others fought for pay, but by and large, ordinary soldiers on both sides fought not primarily for politics, but for country, family, honor, and loyalty. The soldiers and civilians alike of the War Between the States deserve more than a mention in a textbook here and there--their legacy is a part of American today, whether it's realized or not.

The Bloody Lane in the evening

"History never looks like history when you are living through it."
-John W. Gardner

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