Sunday, February 2, 2014


Antietam, marked with an "X" on the map below, is an hour-and-a-half northwest of Washington, D.C.
The first major battle of the Civil War on Union soil was fought here, and this battleground has the dubious distinction of having hosted the bloodiest single-day battle not just of the Civil War, but in all of American history. All told, 22,717 soldiers were killed, wounded, or declared missing on September 17, 1862.

I wonder what those soldiers would think if they could see how their Armageddon has been transformed into a tourist destination.

A very nice visitor center is a great place to begin exploring both the geography and history of Antietam:
Antietam Visitors Center / Souvenir Chronicles
Meet a few of the major players, including Nurse Clara Barton in the top center photo, Confederate Commander Robert E. Lee top right, future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. bottom left (wounded in this battle):
President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee, President Abraham Lincoln, and General George R. McClellan:

This thirteen-starred, one-sided flag was made by Union General George McClellan's niece for him to carry during battle.
General McClellan's flag, Antietam / Souvenir Chronicles
I love this quilt made in 1850 by local resident Barbara Miller, whose relatives' farm was the site of some of the worst fighting at Antietam. The quilt was signed by many families who lived nearby. It reminds me of a contemporary version made by my friend Elizabeth. Barbara's red and white quilt is on the left, and Elizabeth's pastel quilt is on the right:

The visitor center has a very nice observation room that looks out over the 11.36 acres that make up the battlefield: 

Antietam, Maryland / Souvenir Chronicles
There are two particularly striking monuments not far from the visitor center:
Antietam Monuments, Maryland / Souvenir Chronicles
The New York State monument memorializes that state's victims:

The Maryland State Monument is the only one of many monuments at Antietam dedicated to both the North and the South as Maryland had soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
Maryland State Monument, Antietam / Souvenir Chronicles
This iconic photo of dead Confederate and Union soldiers was taken by Alexander Gardner two days after the battle from approximately the place where the above monuments are now located. Antietam was the first battlefield where the dead were photographed before they were buried. Gardner's photographs went on display in Matthew Brady's New York City Gallery, and seeing real images like this one brought the horrors of the war to the people for the first time, much like the television coverage of the Iraq War in 2003 did for my generation.

The simple  Dunkard Church in the photo above was reconstructed in 1962:
Dunkard Church, Antietam / Souvenir Chronicles
The inside is very plain--whitewashed walls and hard, spare benches with only a cast iron stove for ornamentation:
The pastoral view out the church window belies the ghastly events that happened here:
Monuments honoring numerous states and battalions are scattered all around the battlefield, each very distinct. Here is a sampling:

Antietam these days appears to be a working farm, perhaps much as it was in 1862:
I have a thing for sheep. These were grazing alongside the road, perhaps in the very spot frightened soldiers once crouched:
Antietam Sheep / Souvenir Chronicles
The U.S.S. Antietam, a guided missile cruiser, was commissioned in 1987. I'm not sure how I feel about a battleship being named after Antietam. It seems to me that there has been enough death and destruction already associated with the name.

The most lethal battle of the day was fought here, an area known before the battle to locals as "The Sunken Road." After the battle it became known as "The Bloody Lane." In a period of about four hours of intense fighting, 5,500 were killed or wounded in this trench, and neither side came away with the advantage. 
The Bloody Lane, Antietam / Souvenir Chronicles

An observation tower stands at the end of Bloody Lane:

On one side of the tower is Bloody Lane, and on the other side are acres of wheat. That seems to be the constant dichotomy here, impossible destruction happening in an equally impossibly peaceful place:

Finally, there is what is known as Burnside's Bridge, named after the Union commander who wrested this bridge from the enemy's control at the cost of 620 casualties. Once again, this site, removed from the main tourist areas, is the very epitome of peace with its tranquil waters and sturdy bridge.
Burnside's Bridge, Antietam / Souvenir Chronicles

Just five days after the Union army drove the rebels out of Antietam, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, to be effective January 1, 1863. While Lincoln was pleased with the win, he was unhappy with General McClellan's lack of aggression, specifically his failure to follow and destroy the fleeing Confederates. Two weeks after the battle, Lincoln traveled to Antietam to personally deliver his criticisms to McClellan.
Lincoln and McClellan face off, October 2 or 3, 1862:
Because of his lack of aggression, McClellan was relieved of his command in early November. He ran against Lincoln in the 1864 election, but was soundly defeated.

**We interrupt this post for a short and wonderful bit of poetry:**


by David Shumate (From Kimonos in the Closet, (c) 2013)

If it weren't for the photographs, you might think Aeschylus or
Euripides had made him up. Or that he was one of those biblical

fellows tormented to the brink of what a soul can bear. But there

he stands. Long black coat. Tall hat. Half a beard. Droopy eyes. Ears
large enough to serve several men. Like the offspring of a midwife
and a coroner. A tree impersonating a man. Alongside him, his
generals seem daunted. Anxious for the day they too will grow
into men. Then there's that odd mix of joy and sorrow etched
across his face. As when a joke hits a little too close to home. Given
all that's gone on—Gettysburg, Antietam, both Bull Runs, four
long years of war, more than half a million dead, a wife moaning
on the balconies, a child in the grave—Given all that ... why hasn't
his hair turned pure white? 

There was another future U.S. President serving as a supply sergeant in an infantry unit at Antietam: 19-year-old William McKinley (President from 1897 until his assassination in 1901).  A beautiful monument was erected to McKinley at the far end of the battlefield two years after he was assassinated.
McKinley's Monument, Antietam / Souvenir Chronicles

McKinley's regimental commander was Rutherford B. Hayes (U. S. President from 1877-1881), but Hayes's left arm had been shattered by a musket ball just three days before this battle, and he had been forced to relinquish his command while he recuperated. There is no reason why a 19-year-old boy would have been introduced to Lincoln, but I wonder if he saw him, and if he and Hayes later talked about Lincoln's visit or about their shared experiences in the Civil War.


  1. Quilts and a civil war battlefield. Definitely looks like something Denise would like.

  2. Lincoln, Hayes, McKinley and U.S. Grant. I wonder if any other U.S. presidents had a direct connection to the Civil War? The contrast of simplicity and tranquility to death and destruction is evidenced everywhere at this site. A wonderful memorial.

    1. According to this site:,
      other future U.S. Presidents who fought in the Civil War include Andrew Johnson (Lincoln's VP), James Garfield (Shiloh and Chickamauga), Chester Arthur (Quartermaster General)(, and Benjamin Harrison (Atlanta and Sherman's March to the Sea, among many other battles).

  3. This contrast between horror and beauty reminds me of being at Melk, overlooking the beautiful, peaceful valley from a concentration camp.,

    Love the quilts!

    1. Yeah, sometimes some of the greatest tragedies happen in the prettiest places.

  4. When we were there, a few singles from our ward headed out there for the annual luminarias event--a lighting of thousands of luminaries for each war dead. I'd never heard about it, and we couldn't go. . . but now I wish I had. We crammed a lot into our lives that year, but some of the events further afield just didn't make it onto the list. I feel as satisfied as if I've had a visit after reading your post. Thanks.