Thursday, September 19, 2013

Antietam Battlefield

I met with some friends to go to Antietam Battlefield on Sunday for their special anniversary event. I've been wanting to visit here for a while, this place where 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after twelve hours of savage combat on September 17, 1862. The Battle of Antietam ended the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia's first invasion into the North and led to Abraham Lincoln's issuance of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
It was a perfect day to be outdoors, warm and breezy with no humidity. We watched soldiers firing cannons and displaying firing formations, these guys were so realistic and skilled, yet it horrified me to see how slow they were loading those old guns, and helped to put it into perspective how terrifying fighting in that war must have been.
Got the flame coming from the cannon!
And again!
We then took part in a tour and the history of the Dunker Church, details here.
The ranger was so animated with his story that we were all hanging onto every word and scurried after him as he walked toward the building. Inside he finished the tale and told us of how the church bible had been stolen by a soldier as a souvenir, then finally returned by his family when he died. You could have dropped a feather throughout his narrative, he kept us all fascinated, and at the end received a rapturous applause. There's a link on the bible story here.
We then got in a few vehicles and drove down the park to meet a couple of rangers who were taking us on a 3 hour hike, called The Final Attack.
We followed the men as they walked through the last leg of the battle, pointing out where the soldiers had fought and how the lines of attack and defense had moved across the fields. At each stopping point, after explaining the positions and details of the fighting men, they would read out quotations from some of the soldiers themselves. It was a very humbling and moving hike, and we were all trying to imagine how it must have been trudging miles and miles through these fields carrying heavy equipment or maybe not enough to defend themselves, tired and hungry, probably ill, and far too young and experienced to even be in this situation. The rangers made each of us understand the magnitude of this battle by reading us these words, many of which came from this link.
This was an amazing day learning about this horrendous battle, with all of us comprehending far more than by walking around a museum or strolling through fields with a handbook. We were all touched by the rangers' dedication and respect for these fallen men. One of them read a quotation at the end which made a profound impact on me. I asked for the man's name and it took a while to find it on the internet but I wasn't giving up, and eventually found an old Washington Post report with the quotation within:
More than 12 hours after it started, the fighting finally ceased, in a stalemate.
“As the sun sank to rest . . . the last sounds of battle along Antietam Creek died away,” Francis W. Palfrey, a historian and a wounded veteran of the battle, wrote in 1889.
“The corn and trees, so fresh and green in the morning, were reddened with blood,” he wrote. “The blessed night came, and brought with it sleep and forgetfulness . . . but the murmur of the night wind . . . was mingled with the groans of the countless sufferers of both armies.
“Who can tell?” he wondered. “Who can imagine, the horrors of such a night, while the unconscious stars shone above, and the unconscious river went rippling by?”

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