The Union had 12,401 casualties with 2,108 dead. Confederate casualties were 10,318 with 1,546 dead. This represented 25% of the Federal force and 31% of the Confederate.
More than twice as many Americans were killed or mortally wounded in combat at Antietam that day as in the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Spanish-American War combined.
The highest single day total of American casualties in World War II was June 6, 1944, the D-Day invasion of Normandy: the Allied casualties figures for D-Day have generally been estimated at 10,000, including 2,500 dead. The US National D-Day Memorial Foundation has verified 2,499 American D-Day fatalities and 1,914 from the other Allied nations, a total of 4,413 dead (much higher than the traditional figure of 2,500 dead). The total German casualties on D-Day are not known, but are estimated as being between 4,000 and 9,000 men.
I found myself on the ground with a strange feeling covering my body ... My shirt and blouse filled with blood and I supposed it was my last day on earth. I had the usual feelings of home and friends and thousands of thoughts ran through my mind at once.
|Robert E. Lee|
President Jefferson Davis and General Lee hoped that a victory before the November elections in the North might persuade the north to negotiate a peace settlement that would end combat and allow the South to continue independently, with slavery intact in their country. Confederate leaders assumed that Maryland would welcome the Confederate forces warmly. Troops sang the tune "Maryland, My Maryland!" as they marched, but by that point in the war, pro-Union sentiment was winning out, especially in the western parts of the state.
Our men were so hungry that they gathered the crackers and meat from the haversacks of the dead Federals and ate as they fought. . . . In all these weeks we had no change of clothing and we were literally devoured by vermin. We had no tents and slept on the ground, and slept soundly even though the rain was pouring in torrents. A prize fighter trains about two months to get himself in perfect condition, but we had been training in a more vigorous manner for nearly two years, and the men were skin, bone and muscle.
We lived on apples and green corn all of the time, and the soldiers began to drop out of the ranks at every halt. Then an order came for the barefooted men to remain behind and report in Winchester, and some thousands threw away their shoes. Every step our army made northward it became weaker. At last we stood on the long-dreamed-of banks of the Potomac. It was near Shepherdstown, and Maryland, my Maryland, met our gaze at last. . .
Up the dusty broad pike northward to Hagerstown, where the people received the ragged "Rebs" as if they were belted knights, with victory on their plumes. Here every soldier got as much as he could eat. Then there came the long roll and we fell into ranks and sorrowfully turned our faces southward . . on the morning of the 14th of September halted on the fields of Boonsboro, tired—and oh, so hungry. Apples and corn, corn and apples, were our only fare; eating them raw, roasted, boiled together and fried, they served to sustain life, and that was all. . .
I have often been asked about the rebel yell. I have always answered that we Rebs were savage with hunger, and men always "holler" when hungry.
Clifton John interviewed residents of Sharpsburg in 1913, including Teresa Kretzer, who told him:
We were all up in the Lutheran Church at Sunday school on the Sunday before
the battle when the Rebel cavalry came dashing through the town. The whole assembly flocked out, and there was nothing but excitement from that on. We just imagined something was going to happen, and the children ran home from church in terror. There was no dinner eaten that day. The people were too frightened. We'd go out the front door and stand waiting to see what would be next to come.
Lutheran Church, Sharpsburg, after the battle
I was twenty years old then. My father was a blacksmith, and we lived in this same big stone house on the main street of the town. I suppose the house was built a hundred and fifty or more years ago. Most of us in this region favored the Union, and the ladies had made a big flag out of material that the townspeople bought. For a while we had it on a pole in the square, but some of the Democratic boys cut the flag rope every night. So we took the flag down and hung it on a rope stretched across from our garret window to that of the house opposite. In pleasant weather it was out all the time. But when we heard that Lee had crossed the Potomac Pa began to be uneasy, and he says, "Girls, what you goin' to do with that flag? If the Rebels come into town they'll take it sure as the world." He thought we'd better hide it in the ground somewhere. So a lady friend of mine and I put it in a strong wooden box, and buried it in the ash pile behind the smokehouse in the garden.
When the Rebel cavalry went through that Sunday we had no idea what they were up to, and we couldn’t help being fearful that we were in danger. We expected trouble that night, but all was quiet until the next day. Then more Rebels came, and they nearly worried us to death asking for something to eat. They were half famished and they looked like tramps — filthy and ragged.
By Tuesday there was enough going on to let us know we were likely to have a battle near by. Early in the day two or three Rebels, who'd been informed by some one that a Union flag was concealed at my father's place, came right to the house, and I met 'em at the door. Their leader said: "We've come to demand that flag you've got here. Give it up at once or we'll search the house." "I'll not give it up, and I guess you'll not come any farther than you are, sir," I said.
They were impudent fellows, and he responded, "If you don't tell me where that flag is I'll draw my revolver on you." "It's of no use for you to threaten," I said. "Rather than have you touch a fold of that starry flag I laid it in ashes."
They seemed to be satisfied then and went away without suspecting just how I'd laid it in ashes.
|Sketch by Alfred Waud of Civilians Fleeing Sharpsburg before the Battle of Antietam|
Tuesday afternoon the neighbors began to come in here. Our basement was very large with thick stone walls, and they wanted to take refuge in it if there was danger. There were women and children of all ages and some very old men. Mostly they stood roundabout in the yard listening and looking. The cannonading started late in the day, and when there was a very loud report they scampered to the cellar. A lot of townspeople run out of the village to a cave about three miles from here near the Potomac. The cave was just an overhanging ledge of rocks, but shells and cannon balls would fly over it and couldn’t hurt the people under the cliff. I reckon seventy-five went to that cave.
Before day, on Wednesday, a cannon ball tore up the pavement out in front of our house. Oh my soul! we thought we were gone. There was no more sleep, but most of us were awake anyhow. After that, you know, we all flew to the cellar. Very little was stored in there at that time of year. We carried down some seats, and we made board benches around, and quite a number of us got up on the potato bunks and the apple scaffolds. We were as comfortable as we could possibly be in a cellar, but it's a wonder we didn’t all take our deaths of colds in that damp place. We didn’t have any breakfast — you bet we didn’t — and no dinner was got that day, or supper — no, indeed! We had to live on fear. But a few of the women thought enough to bring some food in their baskets for the children. The battle didn’t prevent the children from eating. They didn’t understand the danger. A number of babies were there, and several dogs, and every time the firing began extra hard the babies would cry and the dogs would bark. Often the reports were so loud they shook the walls. Occasionally a woman was quite unnerved and hysterical, and some of those old aged men would break out in prayer.
|Leslie's Illustrated Magazine later published this engraving showing Sharpsburg residents taking shelter in the Kretzer basement.|
In the height of the fighting six Rebel soldiers opened the basement door and said, "We're comin' in, but we're not a-goin' to hurt you." We had a spring in the cellar. The water filled a shallow tank, and that was where our family got what water was used in the house. Those refugee soldiers went back in a little nook right next to the spring. There they stood like sardines in a box, and every once in a while one would slip down into the water.
We had two cows and a horse in our stable, and at dinner time Mother and I went to feed 'em. We climbed up to pull down some hay and found the haymow just full of Rebels a-layin' there hiding. "Madam, don't be frightened," one of 'em said to Mother. "We're hidin' till the battle is over. We're tired of fightin'. We were pressed into service, and we're goin' to give ourselves up as soon as the Yankees get here." And that was what they did, When the Yankees rushed into town these Rebels came through the garden and gave themselves up as prisoners. There were deserters hid in every conceivable place in the town. We had a lot of sacks of seed wheat on our back porch, and some of the skulkers piled the sacks up on the outside of the porch three or four feet high, as a sort of bulwark, which they lay down behind to shelter themselves. How they did curse their leaders for bringing them into this slaughter pen. They said they hoped the hottest place in hell would be their leaders' portion.
Some of the townsmen in the cellar would come up and venture out under the porch, but they were afraid to stay out; and the danger wasn’t just fancied either. A shell exploded right out here at our front gate and killed or wounded seven men.
And yet, mind you, on Wednesday afternoon, another girl and myself went up to the attic, and though the bullets were raining on the roof, we threw open the shutter and looked out toward the battleground. We were curious to know what was going on. The bullets could have struck us just as easy, but we didn’t seem to fear them. On all the distant hills around were the blue uniforms and shining bayonets of our men, and I thought it was the prettiest sight I ever saw in my life. Yes, there were our men, advancing cautiously, driven back again and again, but persistently returning and pushing nearer. My! it was lovely, and I felt so glad to think that we were going to get them into town shortly. We stayed up there I suppose a couple of hours at that little window, and then old Dr. Kelsey came hunting for us and made us come down. I shall always remember what we saw from that window, and many times I go up to the attic and look out, and the view brings it all back.
In the evening mother and I slipped down to the stable and did the milking. But afterward we went back to the cellar, for the firing kept up till ten o'clock. Then we came up and snatched what little bit we could to eat. We didn’t cook anything but took what was prepared, like bread and butter and milk. Our neighbors who had been in the cellar didn’t attempt to go home. Some of the older ones we accommodated in beds, others lay on the floors, but the best part of the people sat up all night and watched, for we didn’t know what was going to come on us.
About midnight we heard the Rebels retreating. Oh! the cannon just came down the hill bouncing. And the cavalry — my! if they didn’t dash through here! The infantry, too, were going on a dead run, and some of the poor, hungry fellows were so weak they were saying to their stronger comrades, "Take hold of my hand, and help me along." A lot of 'em were drownded in going across the Potomac.
We were overjoyed to know that our men had won — yes, we certainly were happy. Well, the next morning everything was quiet. It was an unearthly quiet after all the uproar of the battle. The people who had taken refuge with us saw that the danger was over, and they scattered away to their homes. Father and I went out on the front pavement. We could see only a few citizens moving about, but pretty soon a Federal officer came cautiously around the corner by the church. He asked Father if any one was hurt in the town and said they had tried to avoid shelling it, and he was awful sorry they couldn’t help dropping an occasional shell among the houses.
I lost no time now in getting our flag from the ash heap so I could have it where it would be seen when our men marched into the town. I draped it on the front of the house, but I declare to goodness! I had to take that flag down. It made the officers think our house was a hotel, and they'd ride up, throw their reins to their orderlies, and come clanking up the steps with their swords and want something to eat. So I hurried to get it swung across the street, and after that, as the officers and men passed under it they all took off their hats. Their reverence for the flag was beautiful, and so was the flag.
I had a little flag in my hand, and while I was waving and waving it and cheering our victorious troops some prisoners marched by, and, bless your soul! among them I saw the very men who had demanded the big flag that was now suspended across the street. They looked at the flag and at me and shouted, "You said it was burned!" and they cursed me till some of our men drew their swords and quieted 'em down. "We'll settle with you when we come through here again," they called back, but they never came.
Our men were much cleaner and better fed than the Rebels, and their clothing was whole. The trains soon arrived with the hardtack, and there were baggage wagons and ambulances and everything. We had our men here with us quite a while camped in the town woods, and so constant was the coming and going of troops and army conveyances on the highways that we didn’t get to speak to our neighbors across the street for weeks. Those were exciting times, but we felt safe. Of course there were some common, rough fellows among the soldiers, but as a general thing we found them very nice and we became much attached to them. When they went away it left us decidedly lonely here.
Just as I gave the command to charge I felt a stunning blow and found a musket ball had struck my left arm just above the elbow. Fearing that an artery might be cut, I asked a soldier near me to tie my handkerchief above the wound. I soon felt weak, faint, and sick at the stomach. I laid down and was pretty comfortable. I was perhaps twenty feet behind the line of my men, and could form a pretty accurate notion of the way the fight was going. The enemy's fire was occasionally very heavy; balls passed near my face and hit the ground all around me. I could see wounded men staggering or carried to the rear; but I felt sure our men were holding their own. I listened anxiously to hear the approach of reinforcements; wondered they did not come. I was told there was danger of the enemy flanking us on our left, near where I was lying. I called out to Captain Drake, who was on the left, to let his company wheel backward so as to face the threatened attack. His company fell back perhaps twenty yards, and the whole line gradually followed the example, thus leaving me between our line and the enemy. Major Comly came along and asked me if it was my intention the whole line should fall back. I told him no, that I merely wanted one or two of the left companies to wheel backward so as to face an enemy said to be coming on our left. I said if the line was now in good position to let it remain and to face the left companies as I intended. This, I suppose, was done.
The firing continued pretty warm for perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes, when it gradually died away on both sides. After a few minutes' silence I began to doubt whether the enemy had disappeared or whether our men had gone farther back. I called out, "Hallo Twenty-third men, are you going to leave your colonel here for the enemy?" In an instant a half dozen or more men sprang forward to me, saying, "Oh no, we will carry you wherever you want us to." The enemy immediately opened fire on them. Our men replied to them, and soon the battle was raging as hotly as ever. I ordered the men back to cover, telling them they would get me shot and themselves too. They went back and about this time Lieutenant Jackson came and insisted upon taking me out of the range of the enemy's fire. He took me back to our line and, feeling faint, he laid me down behind a big log and gave me a canteen of water, which tasted so good. Soon after, the fire having again died away, he took me back up the hill, where my wound was dressed by Dr. Joe. I then walked about half a mile to the house of Widow Kugler . . .
Rutherford B. Hayes
I omitted to say that a few moments after I first laid down . . .I got up and began to give directions about things, but after a few moments, getting very weak, I again laid down. While I was lying down I had considerable talk with a wounded soldier lying near me. I gave him messages for my wife and friends in case I should not get up. We were right jolly and friendly, it was by no means an unpleasant experience.
When IX Corps commander Jesse Reno was killed in the battle, Jacob Cox assumed command. An Ohio attorney, Cox had helped to organize the Republican Party in Ohio and formed a political alliance with Salmon P. Chase. At the start of the war, Cox was in poor health and was the father of six children, but he chose to enter Federal service as an Ohio volunteer. Before mustering out of the service in 1866, Cox was elected governor of Ohio. Cox sided with President Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction plan and was against African American suffrage.He later wrote several books on Civil War campaigns:
When we approached the line of hills bordering the Antietam, we received orders to turn off the road to the left, and halted our battalions closed in mass. It was now about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. McClellan, as it seemed, had just reached the field, and was surrounded by a group of his principal officers, most of whom I had never seen before. I rode up with General Burnside, dismounted, and was very cordially greeted by General McClellan. He and Burnside were evidently on terms of most intimate friendship and familiarity. He introduced me to the officers I had not known before, referring pleasantly to my service with him in Ohio and West Virginia, putting me upon an easy footing with them in a very agreeable and genial way.
We walked up the slope of the ridge before us, and looking westward from its crest the whole field of the coming battle was before us. Immediately in front the Antietam wound through the hollow, the hills rising gently on both sides. In the background on our left was the village of Sharpsburg, with fields inclosed by stone fences in front of it. At its right was a bit of wood with the little Dunker Church standing out white and sharp against it. Farther to the right and left the scene was closed in by wooded ridges with open farm lands between, the whole making as pleasing and prosperous a landscape as can easily be imagined. We made a large group as we stood upon the hill, and it was not long before we attracted the enemy's attention. A puff of white smoke from a knoll on the right of the Sharpsburg road was followed by the screaming of a shell over our heads. McClellan directed that all but one or two should retire behind the ridge, while he continued the reconnaissance, walking slowly to the right. I noted with satisfaction the cool and business-like air with which he made his examination under fire. The Confederate artillery was answered by a battery, and a lively cannonade ensued on both sides, though without any noticeable effect. The enemy's position was revealed, and he was evidently in force on both sides of the turnpike in front of Sharpsburg, covered by the undulations of the rolling ground which hid his infantry from our sight.
Near the town of Sharpsburg, Lee deployed his Confederate forces behind Antietam Creek along a low ridge. The first two Union divisions arrived on the afternoon of September 15, and the bulk of the remainder of the army late that evening. George W. Beale of the 9th Virginia Cavalry later wrote in A Lieutenant of Cavalry in Lee's Army:
Our brigade was on the march for several hours, and through the mistake of a blundering guide, was led to a position very close to a line of Federal batteries. Here we slept unconscious of danger until nearly dawn. Before daylight, General Fitz Lee ascertained the situation of the command, and endeavored to extricate us as quietly as possible, going around himself arousing and cautioning many of the men. We had gone a quarter of a mile away, perhaps, and had nearly reached a position of safety beyond the crest of a hill, when we were discovered, and the enemy's guns opened on us. This discharge began the fray on the memorable and sanguinary 17th of September, 1862. One of the first shells fired, striking the earth near us, exploded, covering some of us with dust and inflicting on brave Colonel Thornton, of the Third Virginia Cavalry, a mortal wound. I was near him at the moment, and witnessed the shrugging of his shoulders and quiver of the muscles of his face, as he felt the shock of the piece of shell, shattering his arm close to the shoulder.
I followed boating on the canal, but at the time of the battle I was here at Sharpsburg where I had a home on the outskirts of the town. I was a young fellow then, twenty-eight years old.
In the early part of the war, when I didn’t think it was goin' to be much of anything, I felt toward the South because I had a brother in the Confederate army. He liked soldierin' as well as eatin', but he got knocked to pieces pretty well before the war was over. His side was mashed in, and he lost an arm. The doctors never could get his broken ribs into shape so but that he was one-sided, and yet he got through the war sound enough to travel for a firm sellin' goods. Things was very much unsettled in the South where he made his trips, and one time he left us and started on a trip as usual, and we've never heard anything of him since. He had to wear good clothes, and he looked like a prosperous man with money. Maybe he was killed and robbed, or maybe he died of yellow fever in New Orleans.
As I said, I favored the South early in the war, but later I didn’t care which side won if only they put a stop to the fightin', though it did seem to me it would be better to have one country.
The Southern troops began to come in here on the Monday before the battle, and on Tuesday the wagons and artillery and men were goin' back and forth, and there was continual noise all the time. We was havin' a drouth, and the weather was very hot. They didn’t pay any attention to the regular highways, but went across the fields the nearest way to where they wanted to go, and the dust on those roads they made was ankle deep. There was cannonading all day, and the people was hidin' and gettin' away as fast as they could. But we'd had word that any one who owned a good house had better stay and take care of it because in an army there's always fellows who will plunder houses left unprotected. So I stayed at home.
On Wednesday morning the artillery opened up before day, and it made such a racket you'd think the earth was opening up. I went out to feed my horse, and on the way back a shell come mighty near gettin' me. It bursted over my head and stunned me right smart. My brother-in-law was in the house, and when I got in there he said, "What's the matter, Jake, that you look so pale?" I took him out and showed him the pieces of shell scattered all around, and he said, "There's goin' to be a fight, and a big one."
The sound of the shells was like wind blowing over the telephone wires. When the cannonade ceased, then I could hear the bullets buzz like bees. Pretty soon the balls commenced comin' in the house, and I thought it was time to get somewhere else. The hotel here belonged to my brother, and I thought I'd go down there. So I run from behind one big house to another till I got to the hotel. I could look right around the corner of it and see the Confederate artillery on the hill. I see one of the gunners drug away from the cannon down in a hollow where the reserves were, but I don't know whether he was crippled or killed. Two other men was with me, and we was the only citizens in sight around the town.
We hadn’t been there but a very short time when half a dozen Confederates come down a cross street with eleven prisoners. One of the prisoners had his jaw shot off. I shall never forget how he looked.
A shell went into a hogpen near us and killed two hogs. Another shell struck the heel of a soldier in the street and turned him over and over like a wagon wheel.
About one o'clock I started to go back to my own place to look at my horse. But after I'd dodged along a ways the cannonading got so heavy I thought I'd go into a cellar till it ceased a little. I was behind an old log house, and I took hold of the basement door. At the first pull it didn’t come open, and the second pull yanked the door off its hinges. Then I saw that the basement was full of Confederate soldiers. I went down in there, and about that time a shell struck the end of the house and knocked out some logs and bricks. I heard a scuffling in the room above. Another lot of Confederate soldiers was up there, and they came down to the basement for better protection. One of 'em had a splinter — a piece of a log, you know — in his arm. He asked some of his comrades to pull it out, and they wouldn’t. Then he asked me, and I didn’t dare refuse. I pulled him off his feet before I got it out. The explosion had skun his back from his neck down and tore his clothes pretty near off of him. He must have been lying down on his stomach. He fared worse than some who fought in the battle. There was skulkers on both sides, but I saw only Confederate skulkers in that old house.
I had just one lot to cross to get to my stable, and when the firing slacked up and I went, I didn’t go very slow, I tell you. But I found my horse was gone, and the stable was full of cavalry horses. A fellow was there lookin' after 'em, and I said, "Where's mine?""He's out there hitched to the fence," the fellow answered.
I looked, and I didn’t know the horse at first because he had on a cavalry saddle and bridle. "I've been riding him," the fellow said, "and he's a good horse. Sell him to me." He seemed to be a gentleman — that fellow, and he offered me three or four times what the horse was worth, but it was Confederate money. The horse was a fine one for any purpose, and only six years old, and I didn’t want to part with him for Confederate money. I told the fellow I'd be back in an hour or so, and then I'd sell the horse to him. That was the only way I could save my horse. I took the rig off, put on a bridle of my own, and rode up an alley to the hotel. The stable there was full of straw, but I pulled out some and got the horse in. Then I tucked the straw around so he couldn’t be seen, and there he stayed till the battle ended. A month afterward, when the straw was being used, a shell was found in it that had come in through the log walls. If that shell had exploded, the straw would have been set on fire, and my horse would have been killed.
Stragglers were running around robbing the houses of people who'd gone away, and they got in my house and just took everything. Besides, they took five mules of mine out of a field where I kept 'em. Them were mules that did my towing on the canal.
Some of the houses in the town were used for hospitals. The doctors would huddle the family all into one little room, or turn 'em out. The house across the way from mine was a hospital, and the family there got what the doctors called camp fever, and some of 'em died.
For three or four days the soldiers was busy out on the battlefield burying the dead. Lots of dead men got pretty strong before they was buried, the weather was so hot; and the stench was terrible — terrible!
On Friday I was engaged in helping drag the dead horses out of town. A farmer with four horses and a black man and myself did that work. We'd hitch a log-chain around a dead horse's neck, and it was all that the four horses could do to drag the carcass over the hills. We burnt what we could on the edge of the town, but fence rails was the only fuel and most of those had been used for campfires. I s'pose we burnt ten or twelve, and we drug nearly as many more out on the farms so as to get the stench away from the town.
One trouble, after the battle, was to get feed for our stock. I had to ride a whole day to buy some hay, and there'd been a lot made, too, but it had been taken for the army horses.
I don't care about ever seein' a war again, but of co'se I wouldn’t stand havin' another country pitch onto us. Why, in that case, if I was a young man, I'd fight as sure as you're born.
Douglas was born in Ireland in 1838; his family emigrated when he was a child, eventually settling in western Maryland at Ferry Hill Place, immediately across the Potomac River from Shepherdstown. After Virginia seceded, Douglas enlisted as a private in Company B of the 2nd Virginia Infantry. He would later write in his memoirs, I Rode with Stonewall,
When on the 17th of April, 1861, Virginia passed the Ordinance of Secession, I had no doubt of my duty. In a week I was back on the Potomac. When I found my mother sewing on heavy shirts – with a heart doubtless heavier than I knew – I suspected for what and whom they were being made. In a few days I was at Harpers Ferry, a private in the Shepherdstown Company, Company B, Second Virginia Infantry.
|Map of the Battlefield of Antietam|
|Pry House, McClellan's Headquarters|
Confederate cavalryman J.E.B. Stuart, checking on his units that night, found John Pelham's artillery crew asleep near a cornfield; he woke Pelham, saying:
My dear fellow, don’t you know that the corn field at the foot of the hill is full of Yankees? And that you ought to have your guns in position now, for if you wait until daylight the hill will be swarming with blue coats.
|The Dunker Church|
Yes I did do that. I knew the men of my old brigade would fight without me and just at that particular moment that gun needed looking after to make its fire effective.
George Miller was a 23-year-old from a Quaker family in Pennsylvania; although the Quakers believed in pacifism, they were also strongly against slavery. George Miller enlisted in the Union army on August 4, 1862, just 6 weeks before the battle of Antietam. As his unit had marched to Sharpsburg past the battlefield of South Mountain, he saw a cartload of amputated human limbs, "mostly legs that had been taken off above the knee." It was his worst fear, more than being killed, that he would be wounded, and an arm or leg cut off.
Union General George Meade's 1st Brigade of Pennsylvanians, under General Truman Seymour, began advancing through the East Woods and exchanged fire with Colonel James Walker's brigade of Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina troops. As Walker's men forced the Union soldiers back, aided by Lee's artillery fire, another division entered the cornfield, also to be torn up by artillery. Union General Abram Duryée's brigade marched directly into volleys from Colonel Marcellus Douglass's Georgia brigade. Enduring heavy fire from a range of 250 yards, Duryée ordered a withdrawal.
|Watercolor by Truman Seymour|
|John S. McCarthy|
Private John S. McCarthy had enlisted in the army a month before Antietam. A 23-year old farm boy from Pennsylvania, he was the second oldest of nine children. McCarthy was shot in the head during a Confederate counterattack and probably died instantly.
Private Frederick C. Foard of the 20th North Carolina Infantry later wrote:
I could see dimly through the dense sulphurous battle smoke and the line from Shakespeare's Tempest flitted across my brain: Hell is empty and all the devils are here. . . .Before I could reload our line broke on both sides of me and it was a sharp run . . . Jimmie Gibson from Concord was shot down . . . Jimmie exclaimed, "Great God, Dan don't leave me!" Dan ran back in the face of the enemy's fire, took Jimmie on his shoulder the enemy's line being not 10 yards distant and ran out with him . .. I fell sprawling. Just then the man next to me was shot through the head and fell across me. I had to roll his dead body off me before I could get up. . . The Chaplain of one of our regiments . . . with a prescience born of more than mortal wisdom quickly discerned it was impossible for us to withstand the enemy's onslaught, insured his own safety by flight. . . McRae who was always facetious exclaimed in a voice that could be heard above the din of battle "Parson - Parson - God damn it, come back here; you have been praying all your life to get to heaven and now that you have a chance for a short cut you are running away from it."
|Evander McIver Law|
Late in the afternoon of the 16th, the enemy's skirmishers advanced into the woods in front of my position. They were held in check by my riflemen and the Texas skirmishers. In the mean time I was ordered by General Hood, commanding the division, to move forward and occupy the edge of the wood in which the skirmishing was going on. This was quickly accomplished, and the enemy was driven, at dark, to the farther side of the wood, toward the Antietam. My brigade was relieved during the night, and moved, with the rest of General Hood's command, to the wood in rear of Saint Mumma's Church (Dunkers' Chapel).
Soon after daylight on the 17th, the attack of the enemy commenced. The battle had lasted about an hour and a half, when I was ordered to move forward into the open field across the turnpike. On reaching the road, I found but few of our troops on the field, and these seemed to be in much confusion, but still opposing the advance of the enemy's dense masses with determination. Throwing the brigade at once into line of battle, facing northward, I gave the order to advance. The Texas Brigade, Colonel Wofford, had in the mean time come into line on my left, and the two brigades now moved forward together. The enemy, who had by this time advanced half-way across the field and had planted a heavy battery at the north end of it, began to give way before us, though in vastly superior force. The Fifth Texas Regiment (which had been sent over to my right) and the Fourth Alabama pushed into the wood in which the skirmishing had taken place the evening previous, and drove the enemy through and beyond it. The other regiments of my command continued steadily to advance in the open ground, driving the enemy in confusion from and beyond his guns. So far, we had been entirely successful and everything promised a decisive victory. It is true that strong support was needed to follow up our success, but this I expected every moment.
At this stage of the battle, a powerful Federal force (ten times our number) of fresh troops was thrown in our front. Our losses up to this time had been very heavy; the troops now confronting the enemy were insufficient to cover properly one-fourth of the line of battle; our ammunition was expended; the men had been fighting long and desperately and were exhausted from want of food and rest. Still, they held their ground, many of them using such ammunition as they could obtain from the bodies of our own and the enemy's dead and wounded.
It was evident that this state of affairs could not long continue. No support was at hand. To remain stationary or advance without it would have caused a useless butchery, and I adopted the only alternative-that of falling back to the wood from which I had first advanced. The enemy followed very slowly and cautiously. Under direction of General Hood I reformed my brigade in the rear of Saint Mumma's Church (Dunkers' Chapel), and, together with the Texas Brigade, which had also retired, again confronted the enemy, who seemed to hesitate to enter the wood. During this delay re-enforcements arrived, and the brigade was relieved for the purpose of obtaining ammunition.
At 1 p. m., having been supplied with ammunition, I was again ordered to the field, and took position in the wood near the church. Here the brigade remained, under an incessant cannonade, until near nightfall, when it was moved [one]half mile nearer the town of Sharpsburg, where it lay during the night and the following day.
The good conduct of my brigade in this battle had not been surpassed by it in any previous engagement. Weak and exhausted as they were, and fighting against fearful odds, the troops accomplished and endured all that was within the limits of human capacity. Our loss in proportion to the numbers engaged was extremely heavy.
|Houston B. Lowrie|
Legs, arms, and other parts of human bodies were flying in the air like straw in a whirlwind. The dogs of war were loose, and "havoc" was their cry.
It was rather Strange music to hear balls scream within an inch of my head. I had a bullett strike me on the top of the head just as I was going to fire and a piece of Shell struck my foot - a ball hit my finger and another hit my thumb I concluded they ment me. . . . I got rather more excited than I wish to again. I dident think of getting hit but it was almost a miricle that I wasent the rebels that we took prisoners said that they never before encountered a regiment that fought so like "Devils" (so they termed it) as we did - every one praised our regiment - one man in our company was Shot through the head no more than 4 feet from he he was killed instantly . . .
I saw some of the horidest sights I ever saw - one man had both eyes shot out - and they were wounded in all the different ways you could think of - the most I could do was to give them water - they were all very thirsty . . .
|Robert T. Coles|
We had now been engaged almost three hours fighting desperately without any intermission, most of the men had exhausted their ammunition, and all had exhausted themselves in their efforts to drive the enemy from his position. . . . General Hood kept his staff and couriers busy going over the field directing the scattered men of the Division to assemble in the rear of Dunker Church.
Just as we reached the Church, Lieutenant King of F Company . . . had the whole top of his head blown off by a shell. . . .
As Captain Karsner, Lieutenant Dan Turner and I were slowly wending our way in that direction, a shell of the enemy from over on the right of the line bursting near us, a fragment struck Karsner's too prominent nose. The shock was so great it knocked him a severe fall, at full length upon his back.
We ran to him, thinking he was killed. On examination, as he still remained where he fell, though bleeding profusely, we found the wound very slight. With the blood running down in his eyes and mouth, he presented, lying there, a most ludicrous sight, so much that it was impossible to avert a smile on our part.
He imagined that the missile had gone entirely through his head, so great was
John Bell Hood
the shock; and when he observed that we entertained so little feeling for a "dying" comrade, promptly arose and, still quite dazed, abused us soundly for our lack of sympathy. After being convinced that it was nothing serious, he soon regained his usual merry mood. Just then General Hood was seen approaching from the rear. . . . Lieutenant Turner remarked, "Captain, wipe that blood from your face before General Hood reaches us." "No," he said, "I see see if I can make him sympathize with me." He then, with his hands, smeared the clotted blood thickly over his face. General Hood exclaimed as he rode up, "My Good! Captain, I am sorry to see you so seriously wounded." "Yes, General," he said, "I came very near getting my face shot off." General Hood was as sympathetic as a woman.
Major Matt Dale, commanding the right wing, came to me at my station at the center and reported that nearly every man of the right wing had been shot down, killed or wounded, and not a man would be left alive unless we withdrew at once. The roar all about us of nearby small arms and of artillery more distant was so deafening that the Major, in making his report, had to place his mouth to my ear. Just as he concluded and whilst we still were standing breast to breast, he with his right side and I with my left towards the front, he was stricken by a bullet, straightened, stiffened, and fell backwards prone upon the ground, dead.
We are now in the famous cornfield. Before proceeding far we strike the enemy's skirmish line and brush it away. As we move forward our brave Lieutenant, tall and as erect as a statue, is a conspicuous figure in the line. He is as cool as he would have been had he been leading his company in review. To us he seems the very embodiment of an ideal soldier. We push our way through the tall corn, which reaches far above our heads and waves as if shaken by the wind. Shells are bursting all about us, and men are falling every moment. My limbs tremble at every step, for fear has taken a strong hold upon me, and it is only by thinking of the requirements of duty and of the ridicule to which I would be subjected from my comrades should I fail that I am able to keep my place in the ranks. Some men never had this fear in going into battle. I confess I never entered one without it.
At last we gain the open ground, and are here met by a perfect storm of bullets, while shells and canister fly about us furiously or go screaming over our heads to the rear. Our Lieutenant is struck in one of his feet by a bullet, it is a bad wound, as two of his toes are cut away, but he halts only a moment while we are pulling down a fence. Major Burbank advises him to go to the rear, but he only smiles and says he is “worth a dozen dead men yet” I am holding a rail above my head in both hands, in the act of throwing it behind me, when a piece of shell or a solid shot wrenches it from my grasp with such violence that my arms are benumbed.
. . . The fire has been increasing every moment until now it is indeed terrible. We start up a slight rise, and our Lieutenant follows, limping. Second Lieutenant Orne advises him to go to the rear. He raises himself to his full height and somewhat scornfully replies: “I shall not leave the company.”
We gain the crest of the little ridge. . . . What a scene is that which opens up about us! Directly in front, not more than one hundred yards away, is "Stonewall" Jackson's whole division moving toward us. With their saucy battle flags gayly floating above them, these gray-clad heroes present a magnificent spectacle . To their left, in more scattered order, behind fences and rocks and trees, are Hood's men. Farther still in the same direction are Stuart's batteries, pouring a heavy cross fire upon the little knoll upon which we are standing. . .
How terrible is the shock and how our men go down! What screams and groans follow that first volley! Then we load and fire at will as rapidly as we can. . . There is a pandemonium of voices as well as a perfect roar of musketry and a storm of bullets. Shells are bursting among us, too, continually. In the wild excitement of battle I forget my fear and think only of killing as many of the foe as I can.
The tall soldier at my side, who had told me on the march that he felt as though he was to be hit in this battle, has already fallen. He lies at my feet with a mortal hurt. His brother drags him back a few paces and then returns to his place in the ranks. A few moments more and my brother, too, is wounded, though not so badly. When I have assisted him to a stump a short distance in the rear he creeps up behind it and tells me to “go back and give it to them.”
. . . We fight on. Our Second Lieutenant has gone to the rear, his right shoulder being torn from its socket by a piece of shell. Lieut. White remains still. His eyes glow with the joy of battle, and he seems to be everywhere imparting courage and stimulating the efforts of his men. By-and-by he is struck again. A piece of shell has stripped the flesh from the upper part of one of his arms. The shock is severe enough to throw him to the ground, but he quickly rises again . . . I look at his face to see if he shows evidences of pain and am met with a cheery smile. By this time our ranks have become fearfully decimated, and the Lieutenant begins moving those who are yet in line up nearer the colors. “Let us die under the flag, boys!” he cries.
Incidents of the fight are happening every moment. My ramrod is wrenched from my grasp as I am about to return it to its socket after loading. I look for it behind me, and the Lieutenant passes me another, pointing to my own, which lies bent and unfit for use across the face of a dead man. A bullet enters my knapsack just under my left arm while I am taking aim. Another passes through my haversack, which hangs upon my left hip. I laugh at these mishaps as though they were huge joke, and remark to my nearest neighbor that I suppose I shall soon be relieved of all my trappings.
A man a few paces from me is struck squarely in the face by a solid shot. Fragments of the poor fellow's head come crashing into my face and fill me with disgust.
. . . My supply of cartridges is exhausted and I seek for more among the cartridge boxes of the dead. Many others are doing the same, and nearly everybody has had experiences similar to mine. There are but few of us left now. . .
A piercing shriek is heard behind us. We look, and find that our brave Lieutenant has been hit again. This time it is a mortal hurt. His hip is shattered and his abdomen torn open in a shocking manner . . .
Of the 40 men of my company who entered the fight but seven remain. Four of us take up Lieutenant White. We place him on a blanket and start for the rear. We have to pick our way among the dead and dying. The groans of the wounded are terrible. It is hard to disregard the appeals for help that come from every quarter.
The enemy have been reinforced, and it now seems as if they are bound to annihilate what remains of our brigade. Shot and shell plow the ground about us and go crashing into the troops that are pressing forward to continue the work which we have so well begun. It seems almost a miracle that we are not hit, for the air is full of flying fragments of iron and whistling bullets. But we hurry on with our precious burden, anxious to get our poor Lieutenant to a place of safety where the Surgeons can care for his wounds. . . .
At last we reach Poffenberger's and lay our dying friend at Surgeon Hayward's
feet. The doctor examines his wounds. The Lieutenant talks lightly of his hurts, and with his own hands replaces the torn flesh. This exhibition of heroism is too much even for professional self-control, and the Surgeon turns aside and bursts into tears.
We take an affectionate leave of our dear friend, for we must return to the ranks. He thanks us one by one for the service we have rendered him, and whispers a message to those who love him at home. Those who were with him when he died told us he was brave to the last. He died late in the afternoon. One of his lower limbs was very painful just before he breathed his last. . . .His body was sent home and buried in the family lot at Mount Auburn. . . . He was 22 years old and a son of Ferdinand White, a Boston merchant.
|Robert Gould Shaw|
At one in the morning of the 17th, we rested in a wheat-field. Our pickets were firing all night, and at daylight we were waked up by the artillery; we were moved forward immediately, and went into action in about fifteen minutes.
The Second Massachusetts was on the right of Gordon's Brigade, and the Third Wisconsin next; the latter was in a very exposed condition, and lost as many as two hundred killed and wounded in a short time. We were posted in a little orchard, and Colonel Andrews got a cross fire on that part of the enemy's line, which, as we soon discovered, did a great deal of execution, and saved the Third Wisconsin from being completely used up. It was the prettiest thing we have ever done, and our loss was small at that time; in half an hour, the Brigade advanced through a cornfield in front, which, until then, had been occupied by the enemy; it was full of their dead and wounded, and one of our sergeants took a regimental colour there, belonging to the Eleventh Mississippi.
Beyond the cornfield was a large open field, and such a mass of dead and wounded men, mostly Rebels, as were lying there, I never saw before; it was a terrible sight, and our men had to be very careful to avoid treading on them; many were mangled and torn to pieces by artillery, but most of them had been wounded by musketry fire. We halted right among them, and the men did everything they could for their comfort, giving them water from their canteens, and trying to place them in easy positions. There are so many young boys and old men among the Rebels, that it seems hardly possible that they can have come of their own accord to fight us, and it makes you pity them all the more, as they lie moaning on the field . . .
While we were halted in this field, Sumner's whole Corps swept across, close by us, and advanced into a wood on our right. It was a grand sight, and they looked as if they couldn't be repulsed; but they were received there with a most terrible musketry-fire, and finally had to fall back. In that wood, our dead and wounded outnumbered theirs, as much as they did us in the places mentioned above. Hooker had already been repulsed from the same wood, after driving the Rebels across the field in which our Brigade was halted. All the time the artillery on both sides had been keeping up a steady fire, and I think it was in this arm that we had the advantage. Gordon's Brigade made another advance shortly after Sumner's but had to retire like the rest at this point. . .
I lost one killed and five wounded from my company. The man who was killed belonged to Harry's company, but was with me. The enemy was not dislodged from that wood at all, but in other parts of the field we decidedly got the advantage of them, after a great deal of doubtful fighting all day.
I was struck once by a spent ball in the neck, which bruised, but didn't break the skin . . At last, night came on, and, with the exception of an occasional shot from the outposts, all was quiet. The crickets chirped, and the frogs croaked, just as if nothing unusual had happened all day long, and presently the stars came out bright, and we lay down among the dead, and slept soundly until daylight.
There were twenty dead bodies within a rod of me. The next day, much to our surprise, all was quiet, and the burying and hospital parties worked hard, caring for the dead and wounded.
. . . It was the greatest fight of the war, and I wish I could give you a satisfactory account of everything I saw, but there are so many things to tell, that it is impossible to do so without giving more time to it than I have, or being a better writer . . .
I never felt, before, the excitement which makes a man want to rush into the fight, but I did that day. Every battle makes me wish more and more that the war was over. It seems almost as if nothing could justify a battle like that of the 17th, and the horrors inseparable from it. The result of the battle was, that we remained in possession of the field, and the enemy drew off undisturbed. Whether that is all we wanted, I don't know; but I should think not.
Near Sharpsburg. Sept. 17th 1862.
On the field
It is a misty moisty morning. We are engaging the enemy and are drawn up in support of Hooker who is now banging away most briskly. I write in the saddle to send you my love and to say that I am very well so far --
I think I die in victory. God defend our country. I trust in God & love you all to the last
Dearest love to father & all my dear brothers. Our troops have left the part of the field where I lay --
Mother, yrs Wilder
All is well with those that have faith
|Charles Francis Adams, Jr.|
When we first deployed on the further side of Antietam Creek, it seemed as if we were doomed so deafening was the discharge of artillery on either side, and so incessant the hurtling of projectiles as they passed both ways over us. Every instant, too, we expected to be ordered to advance on the Confederate batteries. The situation was unmistakably trying. But no orders came; and no one was hurt. By degrees it grew monotonous. Presently, to relieve our tired horses, we were ordered to dismount, and, without breaking the ranks, we officers sat down on the sloping hill-side. No one was being struck; I was very tired; the noise was deadening; gradually it had on me a lulling effect; and so I dropped quietly asleep asleep in the height of the battle and between the contending armies!
They woke me up presently to look after my horse, who was grazing somewhat wide; and, after a time, we were withdrawn, and sent elsewhere. . . .Such is my recollection of that veritable charnel-house, Antietam. . .
I was the cook at Delaney's Tavern hyar in Sharpsburg when the battle was fought. That was a big time, yes, a big time, and I never want to see no such time again. The day befo' the battle the two armies was jest a-feelin' for one another. That was on a Tuesday. The Rebels was keepin' the Yankees back while mo' of their men was crossin' the Potomac.
In the evenin' the tavern family was all in the kitchen when a young feller come in and asked for somethin' to eat. My old boss said: "We ain't got nothin' fo' our own selves. You soldiers have e't us all out." The feller went out the do', and it wasn’t ten minutes befo' the barn was a-fire. The men jest had to get up on top of the house and spread wet blankets all over the roof to keep the tavern from burning. We couldn’t save the barn. That burnt down to the ground, and the chickens and everything in it was burnt up. Oh! it was an awful time.
General Lee come to the house early the next morning. He was a fine-lookin' man, and he was the head general of 'em all in the Rebel army, you know. Our old boss was a Democrat, too; so he gave the general his breakfast. But while the officers was eatin' there in the dining-room a shell come right throo the wall and busted and scattered brick and daubin' all over everything. There was so much dirt you couldn’t tell what was on the table. I was bringin' in coffee from the kitchen and had a cup and saucer in my hand. I don't know where I put that coffee, but I throwed it away, and we all got out of there in a hurry.
I went out to the gate. An old colored man was comin' down the pavement with
Main Street, Sharpsburg
an iron pot on his head. He said the Yankees had got the Rebels on the run, and there'd be fightin' right in the town streets. He was goin' to get away, and he was carryin' that pot so he'd have somethin' to cook in. Pretty soon I was back workin' in the kitchen, but the soldiers told me I'd better get out, and then all of us in the house went into the cellar. We carried boards down there and spread carpets on 'em and took chairs down to set on. There was seven or eight of us, white and black, and we was all so scared we didn’t know what we was doin' half the time. They kept us in the cellar all day while they was fightin' backwards and forwards.
My goodness alive! there was cannon and everything shootin'. Lord 'a' mercy, man! we could hear 'em plain enough. The cannon sounded jest like thunder, and the small-arms the same as pop-guns. Sometimes we'd run up and look out of a window to see what was happening, but we didn’t do that often — not the way them guns was firin'.
By and by word was sent in for the women and children to all leave town. That was about — le's see — between ten and 'leven o'clock, I reckon. We went out on the street, and there lay a horse with his whole backbone split wide open. The ambulances was comin' into town, and the wounded men in 'em was hollerin', "O Lord! O Lord! O Lord!" Poor souls! and the blood was runnin' down throo the bottom of the wagons. Some of the houses was hospitals, and the doctors was cuttin' off people's legs and arms and throwin' 'em out the do' jest like throwin' out old sticks.
We hadn’t gone only a couple of houses when a shell busted right over our heads. So we took back to the cellar in a hurry. The way they was shootin' and goin' on we might have been killed befo' we was out of town. After they'd fit all day and it got to be night they ceased fightin' and wasn’t doin' much shootin', and then we come up and got a little mouthful of food. We didn’t have nothin' to eat in the cellar, and, indeed, we was glad to be there ourselves, and wasn’t botherin' about no dinner or no supper.
At last the Rebels retreated and we heard 'em hollerin'. I spoke to one of 'em who was passin', and said, "Did you have a hard fight to-day?" "Yes, Aunty," he said, "the Yankees give us the devil, and they'll give us hell next."
I went in the house and laid down, but I couldn’t sleep none because I didn’t know when they'd break in on me. Oh Lordy! that was a squally time — squally, squally time — squally time, sure!
The Rebels all got away the next morning early. They run in every direction. You couldn’t hardly tell what direction they wasn’t runnin' to get across the Potomac into Virginia. We was afraid there would be mo' fightin', and we went out of the town tereckly and stayed with a farmer till the next day. My old boss got a pass. There was pickets all along the road who would stop you. Yes, sir, they stopped every one that come along and asked where they was goin' to. We come home Friday, and then we had everything to clean up. But we thanked the Lord we wasn’t killed, and we didn’t mind the dirt.
|Edward Needles Hallowell|
Your Uncle Edward was not a contentious man, — far from it ; but he was one of the few men I knew who really seemed to enjoy a fight. He appeared to go into action with grim delight, and to get out of it with something like regret. And yet in a marked degree he had that peculiar tenderness which is so often the characteristic of strong men. I shall never forget him on Antietam day, as he dashed by with General N. J. T. Dana's staff, waving his sword in recognition of the 20th, with the light of battle on his countenance. Throughout that same Antietam night he wandered over the field, turning up the faces of dead men as he searched for the brother whom he thought was dead.
|Norwood Penrose Hallowell|
Holding my shattered left arm, I walked right through the rebel ranks, whose men were in much confusion and too busy with their onward work to notice or to care for my presence. A shot in the back, whether by chance or design, dropped a Union soldier who preceded me by a few yards. Before long I gained the little farmhouse marked on the maps as the Nicodemus House. The yard was full of wounded men, and the floor of the parlor, where I lay down, was well covered with them. Among others, Captain O. W. Holmes, Jr., walked in, the back of his neck clipped by a bullet.
The baggage train had not been up for many a day, so that I had replenished my wardrobe by appropriations of chance clothing from various sources. It so happened that I wore on that day the light blue trousers and dark blue blouse of a private soldier. When the rebels, a little later, were busy in the yard, paroling some and taking others to the rear, paying marked attention, of course, to officers, I was glad to have taken the precaution to remove my shoulder-straps and to conceal them with my sword under a blanket.
The first Confederate to make his appearance put his head through the window and said : " Yankees?" "Yes." "Wounded?" "Yes." "Would you like some water?" A wounded man always wants some water. He off with his canteen, threw it into the room, and then resumed his place in the skirmish line and his work of shooting retreating Yankees. In about fifteen minutes that good- hearted fellow came back to the window all out of breath, saying: " Hurry up there! Hand me my canteen! I am on the double-quick myself now! " Some one twirled the canteen to him, and away he went.
An Irishman in the yard, whose side had been scooped out by a shell, was asked by a rebel whether he could walk. He replied humorously: "Would I be here if I could? I 'll just leave it to yourself." And then he died.
For a while the farmhouse appeared to be midway between the opposing forces. Shells broke the window panes, and ploughed up the wounded in the yard, but not a shot went through the house.
|Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.|
I am not master of my own acts at present. I have been appointed a 1st Lieutenant in the Army of the ‘Confederate States of America.’ My appointment has been confirmed by the Congress. The appointment was made without my consent or knowledge. I cannot accept an appointment from them as long as I am a member of this Institution, but if I am recalled by the Authorities, I will obey it. I have thus far resisted every overture, on the part of my friends, to resign, disregarded their advice and braved their anger. My father and brothers alone wished me to graduate.
I have seen what Romancers call glorious war. I have seen it in all its phases. I have heard the booming of cannon, and the more deadly rattle of musketry at a distance – I have heard it all nearby and have been under its destructive showers; I have seen men and horses fall thick and fast around me. I have seen our own men bloody and frightened flying before the enemy – I have seen them bravely charge the enemy’s lines and heard the shout of triumph as they carried the position. I have heard the agonizing shrieks of the wounded and dying –
I have passed over the battle field and seen the mangled forms of men and horses in frightful abundance – men without heads, without arms, and others without legs.
All this I have witnessed and more, till my heart sickens; and war is not glorious as novelists would have us believe. It is only when we are in the heat and flush of battle that it is fascinating and interesting. It is only then that we enjoy it. . . . I see the horrors of war, but it is necessary: We are battling for our rights and our homes. Ours is a just war, a holy cause.
It is really extraordinary to find such nerve and genius in a mere boy. With a Pelham on each flank I believe I could whip the world.
We left Cincinnati at eleven o'clk, and did not reach Maysville till ten at night. The banks of the river afforded a constantly varying scene, and we enjoyed the day, though there were no passengers that were attractive. John Pelham met us at the landing, with his carriage. . . . We were made so entirely at home by their Kentucky hospitality, that we soon felt like old acquaintances. . . . In the morning before we were up, a real slave-looking girl came in, sans ceremony, and made up the fire anew. We passed the next morning in free conversation. Their table was generous, as their reception in other respects. A meeting had been appointed for me in the Town Hall of Maysville, in the afternoon. There was a crowded house. Slavery spoken of without reserve, and well borne. Much persuasion to have another meeting in the evening — which we consented to . . . J. P. seemed satisfied with the meetings, though I learned afterwards that he had felt apprehensive, and had expressed a wish that I should be told not to speak on, or allude to slavery.
My dear Lucy, — Here we are on the way up the Ohio river, in a small but tolerably comfortable boat. . . . On reaching Maysville on Seventh-day eve, we found John Pelham (Martha's brother-in-law) waiting to take us to his house, on reaching which his sisters gave as a hearty welcome, and we had a pleasant visit. Yesterday after dinner we returned to Maysville to attend a meeting that had been appointed in the Court House at two o'clock. Theology, war, intemperance, and slavery were the topics dwelt upon; slavery was spoken to, plainly, and well received by a large and attentive audience. At the close, another meeting was appointed for the evening, on Woman's Rights. . . . Lucretia told them they must get Lucy Stone to talk to them . .
Martha Coffin Wright added to this letter:
Dear Lucy, — I don't know how brother James has done to write a word, the boat jars so; I must add, however, my wish that you will go to Maysville. A slaveholder said to me, that she thought it a great pity the meeting last night could not be followed by others, there was such a willingness to hear the truth. I never heard more earnest demonstrations, not by applause, but in remarks afterwards. My good brother-in-law, John Pelham, said to me before the first meeting, "I hope Mrs. Mott will not name slavery, — notice was given for a religious meeting." " Why," said I, " that is eminently a religious subject, and the people, believe me, will respect the free utterance of opinion far more than an unworthy concealment . . He still demurred, but I think he felt entirely satisfied after hearing her; and she did not spare them. Of course I said not a word to her beforehand of this conversation.
I was twenty-two years old. I'd been raised by a man by the name of Jacob Nicodemus, and I was still workin' for him. He had a log house with two rooms downstairs and just a sort of loft divided by a partition up above. There was what we called a bat-house with a couple of bedrooms in it attached to the rear like a shed. In winter we used a room in the house for a kitchen, but in summer the kitchen was in another building off a little piece from the house. We had one of these old German barns with a roof that had a long slant on one side and a short slant on the other. The roof was thatched with rye straw.
At the time of the battle we'd thrashed our rye and oats, but our wheat was standing in stacks beside the farmyard. Our corn was on the stalk in the field, and there was sixteen acres of it.
We had 'bout a dozen large hogs and mebbe eighteen or twenty pigs that run with their mammy yet in the fields and woods. We never penned any of 'em up till after we'd done seedin' wheat. Even our fattening hogs didn’t get any feed till after that time. Ourn was a pretty good breed of hogs. . . . We had quite a few cattle. I suppose there was over twenty head . . .There was six horses on our place and not one of 'em but what we could both work and ride. All the people round had good ridin' horses then — lopers, rackers, and pacers. There wa'n't no buggies much. Horseback ridin' was the go of the day. Men and women, too, would travel anywhere on their horses. Ridin' was healthy and it was fun . . .
On the Sunday before the battle of Antietam the Federals and Confederates fit over hyar on South Mountain. We could hear the guns, but we couldn’t figure out what was goin' on, and thinks I, "Dog-gone it! I'll go and see this fightin'."
So two or three of us young fellers started. We went afoot 'cross the fields to Keedysville and then to Boonsboro, a matter of five or six miles in all. As we went along we kept pickin' up recruits till there was a dozen of us. A hotel man in Boonsboro spoke to us and said, "You fellers'll get right in the fight and be killed if you keep on." But we was nosey and wanted to nose in. We wa'n't afraid, and we'd 'a' went till we heard the bullets whistle if we hadn’t met a wounded soldier. He'd been shot in his hand, and he told us the troops was hot at it up there on the mountain. So we thought we'd let well enough alone, and we went back home.
We expected there was goin' to be another battle, but we didn’t know where or when it would be fought. Nobody was a-workin' the next day. They was ridin' around to find out what was goin' to happen. By afternoon the Rebel army was gettin' into position on the south side of Antietam Creek. Some of the troops was posted off on the edge of our farm, and I went over where they was and walked right up and talked with the pickets. None of 'em didn’t offer to do me no harm. They asked me for some tobacker. I had a right good plug in my pocket, and I divided it up among 'em. They took it all, and they chewed and spit and felt pretty good. An officer lent me his glasses, and I could see the Union army maneuvering over on the hills beyond the creek.
By and by, while I was layin' there talkin' to the pickets, a shell landed in a fence 'bout thirty yards from me. I'd never seen no battle nor no war, and I was scared, and I said, "Ain't you fellers afraid?" "Oh, no!" they said, "a shell has to come closer than that to make us afraid."
But I got up and says I, "Good-by, boys, I'm goin' to take care of my horses."
I went to the house, and a feller named Hines helped me bridle 'em up. Then he mounted one, and I mounted another, and we each led two and rode eight miles north to the place of a farmer we knew. We shut the horses up in his barn and stayed there that night.
The next day I set out to walk home, but when I got most to our farm the pickets wouldn’t let me pass, and I had to return the same way I'd come. While I was gone my horses had been stolen. Hines seen the Union soldiers takin' 'em, and he heard 'em braggin' how much they was goin' to get for 'em. He went to the fellers, and, says he, "Them there belongs to a farmer down near Sharpsburg"; but they took 'em just the same.
Hines said that the fellers belonged to the command of Cap'n Cowles who was stationed at Williamsport, three or four miles away. I follered 'em right up and Hines went along with me. We found Cap'n Cowles and told him what had happened. "Well," he said, "come with me to the corral where we keep our horses, and if you see yourn there, take 'em." We found 'em, and the soldiers stood around and looked at us pretty hard while we rode off with 'em.
There was some cannonadin' and fightin' on Tuesday, and they were at it again the next day at sunrise and fought pretty savage way on into the night.
They tell me that was the bloodiest day in American history. More than twenty-three thousand men was killed or wounded. During the night Lee got away across the Potomac. It had been only two weeks since he started north with an army of fifty thousand, but he lost so heavily in the battle and by straggling that he went back with scarcely half that number.
On Thursday morning I walked home. None of the family was there. The soldiers had taken the children and the old man and old woman off the battlefield before day on Wednesday. The house was full of wounded Northern soldiers, and the hogpen loft was full, and the barn floor. The wounded was crowded into all our buildings. I looked around to find something to eat, but there wa'n't enough food in the house to feed a pair of quail. We'd left fifty pounds of butter in the cellar and seventy-five pounds of lard and twenty gallons of wine — fine grape wine — and half a barrel of whiskey. We had just baked eight or ten loaves of bread the day before, and pies, and I don't know what else. Those things was all gone. So was every piece of bacon from the smoke-house. When the family went away there was the big end of a barrel of flour in the house, and I reckon the soldiers had used half of it in making shortcakes. They'd mixed up flour and lard and water in a tin that we called a washall — we washed dishes in it — and they'd rolled the cakes out thin and greased the whole top of the cookstove and baked 'em on that. After bakin' a cake on one side they'd take a-hold of it and turn it over to bake the other side. I didn’t hardly know the stove when I come home.
We had four geese and 'bout sixty chickens, and the soldiers got 'em all except one hen. She was settin' under the woodpile, and with all that thunderin' and crackin' goin' on she kept settin'. 'Pears to me that was providential. The Lord seen fit to let us have some chickens. She had seventeen eggs, and every one hatched. We didn’t know she was there till she come out with the chickens; and they all lived. I never see chickens grow so fast in my life. We hadn’t no time to tend to 'em, and the hen raised 'em herself.
The soldiers had done their chicken-killin' in the room where we had our winter kitchen. They'd taken the dough scraper and put it on a chicken's neck and hit it a whack with the rollin'-pin, and that rollin'-pin was all bruised up. They were dirty butchers, and the floor was ankle deep easy with heads and feet, entrails and feathers. It just happened that they couldn’t cook in there or they'd have burnt the house up, I reckon. The stove was in the summer kitchen.
What we called our cellar was a large cave, 'bout fifteen yards from the house, with a ten by twelve log buildin' settin' on it. The buildin' had been made for a shop, but we'd repaired it up and plastered it, and we kept our parlor furniture in it. If we had visitors of a Sunday we invited 'em in there to set and talk. Our best chairs was in there — mohair chairs with black, stuffed seats, — and a six-dollar lookin'-glass, mahogany finish, and a nice bed. It was a cord bed with the woodwork of sycamore all through, and it had two feather-beds, one to lay on, and one to cover you. There was two sheets of home-made linen, and these hyar old-time coverlids wove by the women on a loom, blue on one side and red on the other, with flowers of all kinds on 'em. That was what you'd call a fine bed in them days, and you couldn’t buy one like it now, with the pillows and bolsters and sich-like stuff on it, for one hundred dollars.
A shell come in at the northeast corner of that buildin' and hit the bureau and took the top off and went out the southeast corner. Another shell went through the gable ends, and it struck the bed and knocked the headboard and footboard out and took the feathers and sheets and carried 'em right along. The big house didn’t escape either. A shell went through the roof and cattycornered across and went out the other side. Great large limbs were knocked off the trees, and sometimes the whole top of a tree had been carried away. Oh! the trees was knocked to pieces considerable. Yes, indeed!
Our wheatstacks was full of shells, and we picked 'em out while we was thrashing. There was grapeshots in the stacks too. We couldn’t see 'em, and they broke down the machine several times and made us a lot of expense. The soldiers stole a good many of our potatoes, which they dug out of the ground, but we still had enough to do us over the winter. We didn’t get pay for anything except some hay and rye and oats and two colts.
A good deal of our corn was broken down. The soldiers had two batteries right in the middle of it, but we got enough at the ends of the field to see us out the year. Our cattle strayed down in the woods by the river. I reckon they got wild at the noise and the sight of the troops and jumped out of their pasture. They didn’t none of 'em get killed, but it was three or four days before we found 'em. Our hogs went down by the river, too. Part of 'em come home after the battle, but some was shot. The soldiers took the hams off and let the rest of the carcass lay. More was wasted than was saved.
Fully one third of the fences on our farm was gone. Some of the rails had been used to burn the dead horses, and the soldiers always took rails whenever they wanted a campfire to cook with. It was quite a job to make them rails, and quite a job to lay a fence up again. Yes, sir!
On Friday morning I fetched our horses. I hadn’t seen the old man and old woman since the battle, but him and her got back that day. They didn’t like the looks of things very much. The house had been looted. The dishes was gone, and we had no beds and no bed-clothing. There wa'n't a pillow in the house, and no sheets, no blankets, no quilts or coverlids. There was only bedticks — just them left. The soldiers had taken every stitch of mine and the old man's clothing, and they'd torn up the old woman's clothing and used it for bandages. We got gray-backs and bedbugs and everything on us, and the first thing we did was to renovate the house. It took us three weeks with hire to get in shape.
I never want to see no war no more. . . . Thursday I had come on down half way to Sharpsburg to Bloody Lane, and I went all around as far as I had time to go. I saw a heap of dead men of both sides. The soldiers was buryin' 'em as fast as they could gather 'em together. They'd dig trenches 'bout six or seven feet wide and eighteen inches deep, and those trenches was dug right straight along a considerable distance unless the diggers come to a rock. Each dead man was first laid on a blanket, then put in the trench and the blanket spread over him, and there the bodies was buried side by side. The trenches was so shallow that after the loose dirt which was thrown back had settled down heads and toes sometimes stuck out. All over the fields the bodies was picked up, but those right around the buildings was left. I suppose the soldiers thought that the people who owned the buildings would bury the bodies to get rid of 'em. It was a warm September. Yes, sir, some days was very hot, and we had to bury them bodies or stand the stench.
By Saturday night I had all those on our place buried, but the smell hung on for a month, there was so many dead men and horses that was only half covered. The stench was sickening. We couldn’t eat a good meal, and we had to shut the house up just as tight as we could of a night to keep out that odor. We couldn’t stand it, and the first thing in the morning when I rolled out of bed I'd have to take a drink of whiskey. If I didn’t I'd throw up before I got my clothes all on.
I buried three bodies right behind our smokehouse, then four layin' at the back barn doors, and one near the well. A lane for our stock run through the middle of our farm, and I buried three in that lane, and I buried fifteen in a corner of a field that we'd ploughed and got ready to seed. Those fifteen were government soldiers, and they were very near all Massachusetts men. The flesh of the dead men had discolored so they looked like they was black people, except one. He lay close by our well. He had a wound in his neck, and an army doctor who saw him said to me, "Judgin' from his looks and the len'th of time he's been layin' hyar, he must have bled all the blood he had in him." I took cotton and tied up my mouth and nose and dug a grave right where he was a-layin'. He was an awful big man, and that was the only thing I could do. Then I shoved a board under him and got him to rollin', and he went into the grave. I'd rather not have buried him so near the well, but the water wa'n't very good anyhow. In the heat of midsummer it seemed stagnant like, and we'd haul water from a neighbor's well, a bar'l or two at a time. 'Bout a year later that body was dug up to put in the cemetery, and we found a pocket in the back of the man's coat up between his shoulder blades with a ten-dollar bill in it. But the bill was so rotten it fell to pieces, and we couldn’t make nothin' out of it, only on one corner we could see it was a government ten-dollar bill. All his other pockets was wrong side out, and that was the way with the pockets of every dead soldier I saw on the battlefield. They'd all been robbed.
The battle made quite a change in the look of the country. The fences and other familiar landmarks was gone, and you couldn’t hardly tell one man's farm from another, only by the buildings, and some of them was burnt. You might be out late in the day and the dark would ketch you, and things was so torn and tattered that you didn’t know nothin'. It was a strange country to you. I got lost three or four times when I thought I could go straight home.
Another queer thing was the silence after the battle. You couldn’t hear a dog bark nowhere, you couldn’t hear no birds whistle or no crows caw. There wa'n't no birds around till the next spring. We didn’t even see a buzzard with all the stench. The rabbits had run off, but there was a few around that winter — not many. The farmers didn’t have no chickens to crow. Ourn didn’t commence for six months. When night come I was so lonesome that I see I didn’t know what lonesome was before. It was a curious silent world.
A man from Wisconsin with his bowels all open lay calmly waiting his end. He had been struck by a shot and brought back so far and left by a tree to die. He gave his name and the name of his parents to let them know he had done his duty. He did not groan nor murmured . . . . But soon turned over and died.
This incident our men looked on without emotion apparently, for such is the feeling at such a time. . . . The wounded began to come by scores. . . . That dreadful cornfield that will ever be known as the scene of the most deadly strife that took place on that day. We were now on ground strewn thick with our own and the rebel dead . . .
On the way to Antietam my wagons were at the rear of the army; the road was filled for ten miles with a solid moving mass. It was impossible to get by until they stopped for the night. You understand that if one wagon tries to pass another at such a time, it simply is pushed into the ditch. But at dusk the train drew to one side of the road and halted for the night. At midnight I directed my drivers to harness quietly and drive on past them, if possible without creating suspicion. We made the entire ten miles before daybreak and took our place in the rear of the headquarters wagon, and moved on next day unquestioned - passing the field of South Mountain, the guns of which had rung in our ear all the day before.
On the evening of the 16th of September we reached the valley of Antietam.
It was a miserable night. There was a sense of impending doom. We knew, every one knew, that two great armies of 80,000 men were lying there face to face, only waiting for dawn to begin the battle. It gave a terrible sense of oppression.
When the dawn came I was in a hollow which was filled with men and beasts; it was all used and made fetid by this press of human beings and animals. Before dawn I went up on the hill, and there I could sweep the country with my glass, see the countless watchfires of both armies, lying face to face, ready to spring, yet not a man to be seen. Before I left the hill, the dawn came, and the firing began away on the right. There was to be the beginning of the battle, and there I should be needed first. I hastened down; my men were all ready with their wagons, and ordered them to drive to the right, eight miles. We galloped the whole distance, and drew up behind the line of artillery which was covering our infantry and slanted away to the left. There was a big cornfield, and we drove in, and up towards an old barn which was standing in the midst. My men unharnessed the mules and tied them to the wheels and we were ready for work. They were always my helpers. We knew the wounded were in there somewhere, the men went in search of them.
The corn was immensely tall, it entirely hid the house from us. Presently, the men came back saying, "yes, they are over there, the tables and surgeons" and I followed them through the corn and came upon the house. It had a high, broad verandah, and on this every kind of thing that pretended to be a table was standing, and on the tables were the poor men, and beside them the surgeons. They were the same with whom I had just been at the second Bull Run.
"The Lord has remembered us!" "You are here again." "And did you want me?" I asked. "Want you! Why, we want you above all things, and we want everything." "I have everything," I replied. "Look here," he said, "see what we need, and how much we need it, we have no more chloroform, no more bandages nor lint, no more liquor, nothing. See here" and he showed me some poor fellows whose raw new wounds were actually dressed with those rough corn leaves.
And this was the beginning of the battle. You must know that we had passed the supplies the night before; they could not come up until the fate of the day was decided. Those were their orders; they must not risk falling into the hands of the enemy. That was the point I always tried to make, to bridge that chasm, and succor the wounded until the medical aid and supplies should come up. I could run the risk; it made no difference to anyone if I were shot or taken prisoner and I tried to fill that gap.
My men unloaded the wagons, and brought up everything the good women of the country had provided; the wounded kept pouring in, and we kept working over them. After a time my stores for feeding the men began to give out; not the other things, oh no there were plenty of those; but of food I had naturally not enough for thousands, and by afternoon the line of wounded stretched out for five miles.
A curious thing happened there. I had twelve cases of wine, the first nine opened were packed in sawdust; but the last three, when we were nearly in despair of food, were packed in corn meal. My men were almost superstitious over that; they had the idea it must have changed some way from sawdust to meal. It was a lucky sign too, for when we went into the house to reconnoitre for food; down in the cellar we found three barrels of Indian meal and a bag of salt; there were three or four great kettles in and about the house, and we made gruel, gruel, gruel . . .
Towards sunset the third charge was made on the line of artillery covering our infantry. Of course, all day the cannonading had been close upon us; but the house and corn field were under the lee of a hill and the enemy's guns were mostly trained on that hill so that the firing went over us. The upper stories of the house were riddled to be sure and several shells fell in among us and at the edge of the verandah, yet none explored to do harm, fortunately. This third charge was the most terrific artillery duel I ever heard, and I have had some experience. The tables jarred and rolled until we could hardly keep the men on them, and the roar was overwhelming. After a while I looked around, and to my surprise saw all the surgeons gone, except one man, the chief, who was standing by a table where a man lay, but there was no one to help him with the operation. "What has become of your assistants?" said I going up to him. "Don't blame them, madam" said he. "They have been here through ghastly scenes since daylight and then cannonading is nerve-breaking. Don't blame them that they have retired, and some have gone down the line to the wounded." "Very well" said I, "and how about this man? Do you want to go on with the operation? Can I assist you?" "Can you stand it?" said he. "Oh, yes" said I, and I took the chloroform. He gave me directions and we tended the man through the whole of the frightful firing.
In my feeble estimation, General McClellan, with all his laurels, sinks into insignificance beside the true heroine of the age, the angel of the battlefield.
|Recollections of a Veteran|
When we came to that beautiful corn field, boys, that was when the trouble began; and just as we crossed that worn fence, which divided the corn and clover fields, oh, but the bullets did fly! I didn't see them, but saw the effects. Men were falling all around us.
Our bugler was standing near me, when a cannon-ball struck him in the head and cut it from his shoulders. I think I got some of the blood and brains in my face; I always imagined so.
I saw poor Amor Dunbar, standing looking at some horses and cattle that were pasturing in that clover field. It was the last I ever saw of him. He must have been killed there, for no one has ever heard from him since. Just in the middle of the clover field, I saw a mare and colt, two or three cattle, and some sheep, pasturing. They were between two fires - that is, getting our bullets and the enemy's. I saw the old mare stagger and fall, then all but the little colt fell at the first fire. After that we could not see, for the smoke from the burning powder was so dense that we could see only at close range. But in 15 minutes after the fighting commenced, that little colt ran down our line, apparently unhurt. The most remarkable part of it was, that the next day we found the little thing half a mile down the line. It was full of bullets.
|George B. Anderson|
was hit in the ankle.
He was sent home to recuperate,
but the wound festered;
his leg was amputated,
but he died on October 16,
one day before the birth of his
This battle left its lasting impress upon my body as well as upon my memory. . .
The list of the slain was lengthened with each passing moment. I was not at the front when, near nightfall, the awful carnage ceased; but one of my officers long afterward assured me that he could have walked on the dead bodies of my men from one end of the line to the other. This, perhaps, was not literally true; but the statement did not greatly exaggerate the shocking slaughter.
Before I was wholly disabled and carried to the rear, I walked along my line and found an old man and his son lying side by side. The son was dead, the father mortally wounded. The gray-haired hero called me and said: "Here we are. My boy is dead, and I shall go soon; but it is all right." Of such were the early volunteers.
John GordonMy extraordinary escapes from wounds in all the previous battles had made a deep impression upon my comrades as well as upon my own mind. So many had fallen at my side, so often had balls and shells pierced and torn my clothing, grazing my body without drawing a drop of blood, that a sort of blind faith possessed my men that I was not to be killed in battle. This belief was evidenced by their constantly repeated expressions: "They can't hurt him." "He's as safe one place as another." "He's got a charmed life." If I had allowed these expressions of my men to have any effect upon my mind the impression was quickly dissipated when the Sharpsburg storm came and the whizzing Miniés, one after another, began to pierce my body.
Charles TewThe first volley from the Union lines in my front sent a ball through the brain of the chivalric Colonel Tew, of North Carolina, to whom I was talking, and another ball through the calf of my right leg.
On the right and the left my men were falling under the death-dealing crossfire like trees in a hurricane. The persistent Federals, who had lost so heavily from repeated repulses, seemed now determined to kill enough Confederates to make the debits and credits of the battle's balance-sheet more nearly even. Both sides stood in the open at short range and without the semblance of breastworks, and the firing was doing a deadly work. Higher up in the same leg I was again shot; but still no bone was broken. I was able to walk along the line and give encouragement to my resolute riflemen, who were firing with the coolness, and steadiness of peace soldiers in target practice.
When later in the day the third ball pierced my left arm, tearing asunder the tendons and mangling the flesh, they caught sight of the blood running down my fingers, and these devoted and big-hearted men, while still loading their guns, pleaded with me to leave them and go to the rear, pledging me that they would stay there and fight to the last. I could not consent to leave them in such a crisis. The surgeons were all busy at the field-hospitals in the rear, and there was no way, therefore, of stanching the blood, but I had a vigorous constitution, and this was doing me good service.
A fourth ball ripped through my shoulder, leaving its base and a wad of clothing in its track. I could still stand and walk, although the shocks and loss of blood had left but little of my normal strength.
I remembered the pledge to the commander that we would stay there till the battle ended or night came. I looked at the sun. It moved very slowly; in fact, it seemed to stand still.
I thought I saw some wavering in my line, near the extreme right, and Private Vickers, of Alabama, volunteered to carry any orders I might wish to send. I directed him to go quickly and remind the men of the pledge to General Lee, and to say to them that I was still on the field and intended to stay there. He bounded away like an Olympic racer; but he had gone less than fifty yards when he fell, instantly killed by a ball through his head.
I then attempted to go myself, although I was bloody and faint, and my legs did not bear me steadily. I had gone but a short distance when I was shot down by a fifth ball, which struck me squarely in the face, and passed out, barely missing the jugular vein. I fell forward and lay unconscious with my face in my cap; and it would seem that I might have been smothered by the blood running into my cap from this last wound but for the act of some Yankee, who, as if to save my life, had at a previous hour during the battle, shot a hole through the cap, which let the blood out.
I was borne on a litter to the rear, and recall nothing more till revived by stimulants at a late hour of the night. I found myself lying on a pile of straw at an old barn, where our badly wounded were gathered. My faithful surgeon, Dr. Weatherly, who was my devoted friend, was at my side, with his fingers on my pulse. As I revived, his face was so expressive of distress that I asked him: "What do you think of my case, Weatherly?" He made a manly effort to say that he was hopeful. I knew better, and said: "You are not honest with me. You think I am going to die; but I am going to get well." Long afterward, when the danger was past, he admitted that this assurance was his first and only basis of hope.
General George B. Anderson, of North Carolina, whose troops were on my right, was wounded in the foot, but, it was thought, not severely. That superb man and soldier was dead in a few weeks, though his wound was supposed to be slight, while I was mercifully sustained through a long battle with wounds the combined effect of which was supposed to be fatal. Such are the mysterious concomitants of cruel war.
A strong, sturdy-looking Reb was coming laboriously on with a Yank of no small proportions perched on his shoulders. Wonderingly I joined the group surrounding and accompanying them at every step, and then I learned why all this especial demonstration; why the Union soldiers cheered and again cheered this Confederate soldier, not because of the fact alone that he had brought into the hospital a sorely wounded Federal soldier, who must have died from hemorrhage had he been left on the field, but from the fact, that was palpable at a glance, that the Confederate too was wounded.
He was totally blind; a Yankee bullet had passed directly across and destroyed both eyes, and the light for him had gone out forever.
But on he marched, with his brother in misery perched on his sturdy shoulders. He would accept no assistance until his partner announced to him that they had reached their goal - the field hospital.
It appears that they lay close together on the field . . .The groans of the wounded Yank reached the alert ears of his sightless Confederate neighbor, who called to him, asking him the nature and extent of his wounds. On learning the serious nature of them, he said:
"Now, Yank, I can't see, or I'd get out of here mighty lively. Some darned Yank has shot away my eyes, but I feel as strong otherwise as ever. If you think you can get on my back and do the seeing, I will do the walking, and we'll sail into some hospital where we can both receive surgical treatment." This programme had been followed and with complete success.
We assisted the Yank to alight from his Rebel war-horse, and you can rest assured that loud and imperative call was made for the surgeons to give not only the Yank, but his noble Confederate partner, immediate and careful attention.
Confederate Colonel John R. Cooke of the 27th North Carolina sent a message during combat:
We will stay here . . . if we must all go to hell together. Tell General Longstreet to send me some ammunition. I have not a cartridge in my command, but will hold my position at the point of the bayonet.
|Charles "Charley" King|
|David R. Jones|
Jones had only about 3,000 men and 12 guns available to meet Burnside. Four thin brigades guarded the ridges near Sharpsburg, primarily a low plateau known as Cemetery Hill. The remaining 400 men—the 2nd and 20th Georgia regiments, under the command of General Robert Toombs, with two artillery batteries—defended Rohrbach's Bridge, a stone structure that was the southernmost crossing of the Antietam. It would become known to history as "Burnside's Bridge" because of the notoriety of the coming battle. The bridge was a difficult objective: the road leading to it ran parallel to the creek and was exposed to enemy fire. The bridge was dominated by a 100-foot high wooded bluff on the west bank, strewn with boulders from an old quarry, making infantry and sharpshooter fire from good covered positions a dangerous impediment to crossing. Antietam Creek in this sector was seldom more than 50 feet wide, and several stretches were only waist deep and out of Confederate range. Burnside has been widely criticized for ignoring this fact, starting with derision from Confederate staff officer Henry Kyd Douglas. However, the commanding terrain across the sometimes shallow creek made crossing the water a comparatively easy part of a difficult problem. Burnside concentrated his plan instead on storming the bridge while simultaneously crossing a ford McClellan's engineers had identified a half mile downstream, but when Burnside's men reached it, they found the banks too high to negotiate.
Every room was soon filled [with wounded] . . . The barnyard and garden were crowded with wounded. And I should not have known where to place more.
GENTLEMEN OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY: I very much regret, in appearing before you at your request, to address you on the present state of the country, and the prospect before us, that I can bring you no good tidings. The stern, steady march of events has brought us in conflict with our non-slave holding confederates upon the fundamental principles of our compact of Union.
We have not sought this conflict; we have sought too long to avoid it; our forbearance has been construed into weakness, our magnanimity into fear, until the vindication of our manhood, as well as the defence of our rights, is required at our hands.
. . . The basis, the corner-stone of this Government, was the perfect equality of the free, sovereign, and independent States which made it. They were unequal in population, wealth, and territorial extent - they had great diversities of interests, pursuits, institutions, and laws; but they had common interests, mainly exterior, which they proposed to protect by this common agent - a constitutional united government - without in any degree subjecting their inequalities and diversities to Federal control or action. . . .
The Executive Department of the Federal Government, for forty-eight out of the first sixty years under the present Constitution, was in the hands of Southern Presidents, and so just, fair, and equitable, constitutional and advantageous to the country was the policy which they pursued, that their policy and administrations were generally maintained by the people. . . .They never sought to use a single one of the powers of the Government for the advancement of the local or peculiar interests of the South, and they all left office without leaving a single law on the statute-book where repeal would have affected injuriously a single industrial pursuit, or the business of a single human being in the South.
. . . The instant the Government was organized, at the very first Congress, the Northern States evinced a general desire and purpose to use it for their own benefit, and to pervert its powers for sectional advantage, and they have steadily pursued that policy to this day. . .
The North agreed to deliver up fugitives from labor. In pursuance of this clause of the Constitution, Congress, in 1797, during Washington's administration, passed a Fugitive Slave law; that act never was faithfully respected all over the North, but it was not obstructed by State legislation until within the last thirty years; but the spirit of hostility to our rights became more active and determined, and in 1850 that act was found totally insufficient to recover and return fugitives from labor; therefore the act of 1850 was passed. The passage of that act was sufficient to rouse the demon of abolition all over the North. The pulpit, the press, abolition societies, popular assemblages, belched forth nothing but imprecations and curses upon the South and the honest men of the North who voted to maintain the Constitution. And thirteen States of the Union, by the most solemn acts of legislation, wilfully, knowingly, and corruptly perjured themselves and annulled this law within their respective limits. I say willfully, knowingly, and corruptly. . . Some of them punish us with penitentiary punishment as felons for even claiming our own slaves within their limits, even by his own consent; others by ingenious contrivances prevent the possibility of your sustaining your rights in their limits, where they seek to compel you to go, and then punish you by fine and infamous punishments for asserting your rights and failing to get them. . . .God Almighty have mercy on these poor people . . .
For twenty years this party has, by Abolition societies, by publications made by them, by the public press, through the pulpit and their own legislative halls, and every effort - by reproaches, by abuse, by vilification, by slander - to disturb our security, our tranquility - to excite discontent between the different classes of our people, and to excite our slaves to insurrection. . . . I have thus shown you the violations of our constitutional rights by our confederates . .
The Abolitionists say you are raising a clamor because you were beaten in the election. The falsity of this statement needs no confirmation. . . .What is the significance of Lincoln's election? It is the indorsement, by the non-slave holding States, of all those acts of aggression upon our rights by all these States, legislatures, governors, judges, and people. He is elected by the perpetrators of these wrongs with the purpose and intent to aid and support them in wrongdoing. . . Surely no one will deny that the election of Lincoln is the indorsement of the policy of those who elected him, and an indorsement of his own opinions. . . .Hitherto they have carried on this warfare by State action, by individual action, by appropriation, by the incendiary's torch and the poisoned bowl. . .
Withdraw your sons from the army, from the navy, and every department of the Federal public service. Keep your own taxes in your own coffers - buy arms with them and throw the bloody spear into this den of incendiaries and assassins, and let God defend the right.
. . . We are told that secession would destroy the fairest fabric of liberty the world ever saw, and that we are the most prosperous people in the world under it. The arguments of tyranny as well as its acts, always reenact themselves. The arguments I now hear in favor of this Northern connection are identical in substance, and almost in the same words as those which were used in 1775 and 1776 to sustain the British connection. We won liberty, sovereignty, and independence by the American Revolution - we endeavored to secure and perpetuate these blessings by means of our Constitution. . . .
Our purpose is to defend those liberties. . . .Withdraw yourselves from such a confederacy; it is your right to do so - your duty to do so. I know not why the abolitionists should object to it, unless they want to torture and plunder you. . . As for me, I will take any place in the great conflict for rights which you may assign. I will take none in the Federal Government during Mr. Lincoln's administration. If you desire a Senator after the fourth of March, you must elect one in my place. I have served you in the State and national councils for nearly a quarter of a century without once losing your confidence. I am yet ready for the public service, when honor and duty call. I will serve you anywhere where it will not degrade and dishonor my country. Make my name infamous forever, if you will, but save Georgia. I have pointed out your wrongs, your danger, your duty. You have claimed nothing but that rights be respected and that justice be done. Emblazon it on your banner - fight for it, win it, or perish in the effort.
We want no negro equality, no negro citizenship; we want no negro race to degrade our own; and as one man [we] would meet you upon the border with the sword in one hand and the torch in the other.
Burnside's assault on the bridge stalled again; his officers had neglected to transport ammunition across the bridge, which was becoming a bottleneck for soldiers, artillery, and wagons. This resulted in a two-hour delay. General Robert E. Lee used this time to bolster his right flank: he ordered up every available artillery unit, counting on the arrival of A.P. Hill's Light Division, Those troops had embarked on an exhausting 17 mile march from Harpers Ferry; by 2 p.m., Hill's men had reached Boteler's Ford, and Hill was able to confer with Lee at 2:30.
|Lewis Powell, 1865|
We heard tremendous cheering from the left of our regiment. As we had been having heavy fighting right up to this time, our division commander, General Scammon, sent me to find out the cause which I very soon found to be cheers for McKinley and his hot coffee. . . When you consider the fact of his leaving his post of security, driving right into the middle of a bloody battle with a team of mules, it needs no words of mine to show the character and determination of McKinley, a boy at this time about twenty years of age. McKinley loaded up two wagons with supplies, but the mules of one wagon were disabled. He was ordered back time and again, but he pushed right on.
Early in the afternoon, naturally enough, with the exertion required of the men, they were famished and thirsty, and to some extent broken in spirit. The commissary department of that brigade was under Sergeant McKinley’s administration and personal supervision. From his hands every man in the regiment was served with hot coffee and warm meats.
He passed under fire and delivered, with his own hands, these things, so essential for the men for whom he was laboring.
William McKinley was elected twice as president. McKinley was the last president to have served in the civil war. He returned to the Antietam battlefield on May 30, 1900--Memorial Day--to deliver an address at the unveiling of the Maryland State Monument. Among McKinley's guests of honor were Mr. and Mrs. James Longstreet. McKinley was killed the following year by an assassin’s bullet.
|"Rob" Lee, Jr.|
As one of the Army of Northern Virginia I occasionally saw the Commander-in-Chief, or passed the headquarters close enough to recognize him and members of his staff; but a private soldier in Jackson's corps did not have much time during that campaign for visiting, and until the battle of Sharpsburg I had no opportunity of speaking to him.
On that occasion our battery had been severely handled, losing many men and horses. Having three guns disabled, we were ordered to withdraw and, while moving back, we passed General Lee and several of his staff grouped on a little knoll near the road. Having no definite orders where to go, our captain, seeing the commanding General, halted us and rode over to get some instructions. Some others and myself went along to see and hear. General Lee was dismounted with some of his staff around him, a courier holding his horse. Captain Poague, commanding our battery, the Rockbridge Artillery, saluted, reported our condition, and asked for instructions.
The General listened patiently, looked at us, his eyes passing over me without any sign of recognition, and then ordered Captain Poague to take the most serviceable horses and men, man the uninjured gun, send the disabled part of his command back to refit, and report to the front for duty.
As Poague turned to go, I went up to speak to my father. When he found out who I was he congratulated me on being well and unhurt. I then said, 'General, are you going to send us in again?' "Yes, my son," he replied, with a smile, "you all must do what you can to help drive these people back."
In a letter to Mrs. Lee, General Lee says, "I have not laid eyes on Rob since I saw him in the battle of Sharpsburg, going in with a single gun of his, for the second time, after his company had been withdrawn in consequence of three of its guns having been disabled."
I remember seeing him visiting, as was his custom, his field hospitals, looking after the comfort of his wounded, and with his own hands lifting some of the poor fellows into more comfortable positions.
drove the enemy immediately from the position they had taken, and continued the contest until dark, restoring our right, and maintaining our ground.
|Isaac Peace Rodman|
|Dr. Anson Hurd, 14th Indiana Volunteers,|
attending Confederate wounded in a field hospital
A slave owned by John Otto later told his experiences to Clifton Johnson in 1913:
Well, sir, if I live to see the first day of May, I'll be eighty-one years old. I was thirty when the battle of Antietam was fought. My home hyar in Sharpsburg is only about two miles from Calamus Run where I was born. When I was ten months old my mother and I was bought by Mr. Otto, who lived a little outside of the town down toward Antietam Creek, and I've worked for the Otto family ever since.
My boss was a slaveholder. Yes, he belonged to that sec', but he was a good man to his black people. I'll tell any one that. I was foreman on his place for twenty-odd years. His colored people lived in the same house the white people did, and they e't the same food as the white people did. But we had our table in the kitchen, and they had theirs in the dining-room. When I worked in harvest all day cradling wheat I was paid as much as anybody else, and if I went with the horses to do teaming for a neighbor the money for what I done was mine. That's the kind of a boss I had. There was not many like that — no, sir, not in this country.
After emancipation his son said to me, "Now, Hilary, you're your own man. Pap wants to hire you, but you can go and work wherever you please. If you decide to go away, and it happens that by and by you have nothin' to do, come back and make your home with us." I stayed there, and later, when I was draughted to be a soldier, my boss said, "Do you want to go?" and I told him, "No, sir." So me 'n' him went to Frederick and he paid three hundred dollars to keep me out of the army.
. . . Early in the morning of the Monday before the battle of Antietam the Rebels come in hyar, and the hill at our place was covered with 'em. They'd walk right into the house and say, "Have you got anything to eat?" like they was half starved. We'd hardly fix up for a couple when a lot mo' would come in. The white people and my mother was in the kitchen givin' 'em bread and bacon. They was great fellers for milk, too. Some sat down at table, and some would just take a chunk of food in their hands. They e't us out directly.
The Union troops, who come onto our place a few days later, wasn’t so hongry. That was the difference between the two armies. The Rebels was always hongry, and the men were miserable dirty. They certainly looked pretty rough.
Monday night I went up to the village to see my wife who was workin' for a family there. She was skeered up a little but hadn’t got into no trouble.
When I went back home the Rebels was sleepin' along the edge of the road same as a lot of hogs might. I stumbled over some of 'em, but they didn’t say anything. Their guns was laid aside, and they didn’t know they had 'em, I reckon.
On Tuesday all the Otto family left and went down country for safety. I stayed on the place. Once I fastened up the house tight and walked up in the field. By and by I had a feelin' that I'd better go back, and I went. I found some one had broke a pane of glass in a window and reached in and took out the nail that kept the sash down. Then he'd raised the window and crawled in. Close by, inside of the room, was a washbench, and he'd set a crock of preserves and a crock of flour on it ready to carry away. I took the things and put 'em where they belonged and started on the trail of the thief. It was easy follerin' him, for he left all the doors open which he went through. In the dining-room he'd poured out a lot of sugar on a handkercher to take along, and he 'd gone into my old boss's room and strewed his papers around over the floor. Next he'd gone upsteps, and I went up 'em, too, and hyar he was in a little pantry. He was a Rebel soldier — a young feller — and not very large. I was skeered, but he was mo' skeered than I was — certainly he was; and I said, "You dirty houn' you, I have a notion to take you and throw you down those steps." Oh! I could have mashed him, for I saw he had no revolver. He didn’t say anything. He left. I reckon I was too big for him.
"I'm goin' to have a guard hyar befo' night," I said, and pretty soon an officer come down there and I told him how one of his men had been carryin' on after we'd give the soldiers so much to eat. So he sent three men with guns to guard the place. That evening the old boss come in and said, "General Toombs is goin' to be hyar over night, and he will be up to supper."
"Who in the name of the Lord will get the supper?" I asked. "You and his waiter will have to get it some way or 'nother," he said. Well, we fried some meat and made some biscuit, and the old general got his supper, but he didn’t get no breakfast there. The firin' commenced so strong on Wednesday morning that he had to hurry to his post, and the waiter took his breakfast out to him.
My boss went down in the country to get under the hill where they wouldn’t shoot him. The shells soon begun flyin' over the house and around hyar, and while I was out in the yard there was one that 'peared like it went between our house and the next, and busted. I could see the blue blaze flyin', and I jumped as high as your head, I reckon.
I've ploughed up a many a shell in our fields since the battle. You'd find 'em most anywheres. Often, I've broke 'em in two. It's a wonder I wasn’t killed. There was balls inside and brimstone and stuff.
I didn’t like those shells a-flyin', and I got on one of the horses and led some of the others and went off across the Potomac to the place of a man who was a friend of my boss. There I stayed all day listenin' to the cannon.
Thursday I come home. Befo' I got there I began to see the Johnnies layin' along the road, some wounded and some dead. Men was goin' over the fields gatherin' up the wounded, and they carried a good many to our barn, and they'd pulled unthreshed wheat from the mow and covered the floor for the wounded to lay on. In the barnyard I found a number of Rebels laid in our straw pile and I told 'em the Yankees was comin' to ketch 'em. But they said that was what they wanted — then they'd get a rest.
I was goin' over a stone wall on my way to the house, and there, leanin' against the wall was a wounded Yankee. I asked him when the Rebs left him. "Last night about twelve o'clock," he said. I asked him how they'd treated him, and he said: "They found me wounded, and I reckon they did the best they could, but that wasn’t much. They didn’t have much to do with." For a while I carried water to the wounded in the barn, and then I went on to town. I wanted to see where my wife was, and after I found she hadn’t been hurt I felt considerable better.
A week later the wounded was moved off our place to a camp hospital, and the family come home. The house, as well as the barn, had been used as a hospital, and whatever had been left in it was gone. Besides, every bit of our hay and stuff had been taken to feed the army horses, We didn’t lose any of our own horses, but the next year some Rebel raiders got 'em all except two blind ones.
All were calling for water, of course, but none was to be had. We lay there until dusk--perhaps an hour, when the fighting ceased. During that hour, while the bullets snipped the leaves from a young locust tree growing at the edge of the hollow and powdered us with fragments, we had time to speculate on many things-among others, on the impatience with which men clamor, in dull times, to be led into fight.
|Alvin Flint, Jr.|
You doubtless are aware that I have come to the land of Dixie, to engage in this killing business . . . We were sent to Frederick City, where we remained two days and thence marched to Sharpsburg. We arrived Saturday night, near what I call "Antie-Dam," where my boy was brutally murdered by a band of midnight assassins. Oh that I could revenge on them, as Sampson did upon the Philistines! I was leaning upon that dear boy, as a prop in my declining years; but if my life is spared, I shall knock out some of the props that hold up this uncalled for, and worse than hellish, wicked rebellion. Hardly had the sadness of the death of my dear daughter in January worn off, when this sad, sad calamity should come upon me.
. . . To me the place was dreadful in the extreme, where my dear boy had been cut down in a moment with no one to say a word to him . . . Oh how dreadful was that place to me, where my dear boy had been buried like a beast of the field! Oh could I have found the spot, I would have wet it with my tears! Oh how dreadful was that place to me, where I passed two long, long sleepless nights! . . . My son was a member of the 11th Conn., and his age was 18.
|George W. Beale|
When the night's approach put an end to the fighting on this field, we were allowed to seek some camp near by for food and rest. Wherever we rode for this purpose, however, the ground seemed to be occupied with dead or wounded men. At length, we sought some stacks, and a barn, resolved not to ride farther but there, on the straw and in the buildings, were the dead. I sought an empty wagon in the barnyard and fastened my horse to a wheel.
Next morning, under the wagon, lay a young soldier, fair and noble in his death, with his clothes partly unfastened and his clinched fingers near the ghastly wound in his abdomen from which he had died.
The last scene on which my eye rested that night before it closed, in such close comradeship with the dead, was that of a small group with a flickering lantern beside a fence near by, who were digging a grave and rudely raising the earth over some fellow soldier who had fallen.
Next day, the 18th of September, was spent in line of battle awaiting a renewal of McClellan's attack; but he showed no disposition to renew it, and preparations were made on our side to withdraw at night, and cross the Potomac at Shepardstown. The need of food among us had now become imperative and desperate, and in our company, at least, was fast beginning to surmount all other considerations. Towards night, six or seven sheep, the frightened and pitiful remnant of a large flock, were found in a field, and on the edge of it, we halted and made ready to cook our supper. Several of the men were detailed to catch two sheep. I watched the chase, and for celerity of movements and skill of plan to make a speedy capture, the performance could not well have been surpassed. That night, our monotonous fare was varied, and for once at least we ate mutton-chops.
|Sketch by artist Alfred Waud of truce in front of the Dunker Church|
|David Hunter Strother|
SEPTEMBER 18, THURSDAY. Clouds which lifted about nine o'clock. We have thirty-two thousand fresh men to put into battle today if it recommences. The enemy will not attack from all appearances. The orders given to our generals were to hold their positions but not to attack. . . . Four or five cannon shot of ours broke the stillness of the morning, but no response from the enemy. I think they will retreat by way of Harpers Ferry as a small rear guard can hold the road against our whole force. Saw General McClellan ride to the front and was called to accompany him. We rode to Sumner's post on the right where the General remained for some time in consultation. We then rode to the point of woods where there had been hard fighting. . .
In every direction around men were digging graves and burying the dead. Ten or twelve bodies lay at the different pits and had already become offensive. In front of this wood was the bloody cornfield where lay two or three hundred festering bodies, nearly all of Rebels, the most hideous exhibition I had yet seen. Many were black as Negroes, heads and faces hideously swelled, covered with dust until they looked like clods. Killed during the charge and flight, their attitudes were wild and frightful. One hung upon a fence killed as he was climbing it. One lay with hands wildly clasped as if in prayer.
Dead bodies in Sunken LaneFrom among these loathsome earth-soiled vestiges of humanity, the soldiers were still picking out some that had life left and carrying them in on stretchers to our surgeons.
. . . With one good-looking young Rebel from South Carolina I talked. He was shot through the thigh, bone unbroken. Our men were talking to him kindly and I told him he would soon get well. His voice was soft and subdued. The fire of battle had gone out in his soul. Another was sitting up on the stretcher and had taken a drink of water. He looked sleepy and nodded slightly. His face was bloody and his eyes swelled shut. A ball had entered the bridge of his nose and come out the back of his head. . .
Here was a long grave of ours made in a rain-washed gulley, certain to be washed out the first time it rained hard. I re marked on it to one of the men, who replied, "To be sure they will," and went on digging. In the midst of all this carrion our troops sat cooking, eating, jabbering, and smoking; sleeping among the corpses so that but for the color of the skin it was difficult to distinguish the living from the dead. . .
The shoes that I had on were worn away, nor could I get any from the quartermaster. At this time the uppers of my old pair were practically gone and I kept the broken soles to my feet by an arrangement of strings around my feet and ankles. In this condition I fought thro' the Battle of Sharpsburg, or Antietam as it is called by our friends, the enemy.
Early Thursday morning, I went out among the Yankee dead to get a pair of shoes. I picked out my size and was in the act of removing them from his feet, when he opened his eyes and said: "Can't you wait until I am dead?" I replied that I really thought he was dead, and that, even then I would not have disturbed him but for the fact that I was barefooted. I gave him water, and passed on; it was all I could do.
I got my shoes from another, first making sure that he was dead.
In our company was a Swede . . . He was small and his feet were small. He too went out on a shoe hunt. On his return he was asked if he had found his shoes. He said he had found only one pair that would fit, but the fellow was not quite dead yet. He went out again later in the day, and again returned without the shoes. When asked what was the matter, he replied: "The damned rascal ain't dead yet."
Thursday, Sept. 18th. - Just before daylight we were called in line, as that is considered the favorable time to surprise a camp, and we did not intend to be caught napping. . . . All remained quiet, however, and soon after sunrise we were ordered to stack arms and break ranks. Soon a score of small fires were kindled with cornstalks and small twigs, and the coffee cup - that inseparable companion of the soldier - was steaming, and meat frying, and we soon sat down to our morning meal right among the dead that, already in the hot September sun, began to give forth a very unpleasant odor.
This only shows to what extent we could adapt ourselves to our surroundings.
The Dead of Antietam
A few months before I could have not taken a mouthful of food and swallowed it in the presence of a corpse. Now, although they showed unmistakable signs of decomposition, we did not mind it, even though they lay so thick we were obliged to life some of them out of our way to make room for our lines of battle. . .
Stretcher carriers now came up, and while they carried off scores of wounded we turned in with pick and shovel, in the capacity of grave diggers, and like most everything else done by the army, our grave digging was on a wholesale scale. We first dug a grave six feet wide and about sixty feet long. In this grave, or rather trench, were placed side by side, forty of a South Carolina regiment. . . . As we had but few tools for digging, it took most of the day to complete our wholesale interments . . .
We got orders to move, and as we crossed the battle field the stench from the unburied dead almost took our breath away. We soon crossed the Sharpsburg Pike, where the dead lay in every conceivable position: one with his rammer half drawn from his gun . . . with a small round hole through his forehead, his countenance being by slightly disfigured, but more expressive of surprise than pain.
|Samuel Wheelock Fiske|
hundreds of horses, too, all mangled and putrefying, scattered everywhere! Then there are the broken gun-carriages, the wagons and thousands of muskets, and all sorts of equipments, and clothing all torn and bloody . . .The trees torn with shot and scarred with bullets, the farm-houses and barns knocked to pieces and burned down, the crops trampled and wasted, the whole country forlorn and desolate. . .
I have just passed over a part of the field, I suppose only a small part of it, and yet I have counted nearly a thousand dead bodies of rebels lying still unburied in groves and corn-fields, on hill sides and in trenches.
|Charles Carleton Coffin|
I recall a Union soldier lying near the Dunker Church with his face turned upward, and his pocket Bible open upon his breast. I lifted the volume and read the words: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me." Upon the fly-leaf were the words, "We hope and pray that you may be permitted by kind Providence, after the war is over, to return."
When Joseph Poffenberger and his family returned to their farm, they found that their home and land had been ransacked by soldiers. Jospeph Poffenberger later said that the family members subsisted for five days on army hardtack they found on the battlefield. Soldiers remained on their property for several weeks, eating everything they dcould find, using the fences for firewood, and taking hay for bedding. Joseph Poffenberger filed a claim with the government for his losses but never received any payment.
It is nearly impossible to describe what a battlefield such as Antietam smelled like . . . Decaying flesh and internal organs exude a disgustingly sour, pungent smell. Interspersed with the foul odors produced by decomposition was the distinctive odor of human excrement, for whenever a human dies, the contents of the bowels (which at Antietam were frequently diarrheic) are usually evacuated as a result of internal gaseous pressure and the action of the death upon the muscles of the digestive system.
We were glad to march over the field at night for we could not see the horrible sights so well. Oh what a smell some of the men vomit as they went along.
SEPTEMBER 19, FRIDAY. Bright and pleasant. At breakfast I was not surprised to hear they had retreated. We are advancing but with too much caution to effect anything. Everybody looks pleased but I feel as if an indecisive victory was in our circumstances equivalent to a defeat.
We rode into Sharpsburg, the General riding in an ambulance drawn by four grey horses. He has been unwell since the battle. The village was riddled with balls and shells. Scarcely a house but had been struck and one house was pierced six places. A shell had entered the window of one house and exploded in the parlor, but leaving a mantel mirror unbroken.
A child was killed by one of our shells, but no other citizen was injured. In a kitchen were two dead Rebels who were cooking there when killed by a shell. I rode out from the village to see the field of battle on the Hagerstown turnpike. This was the field where our center and right advanced. In a lane hollowed out and affording some protection the dead lay in heaps. In some places they had been dragged together and corded up in heaps of ten or twenty. Elsewhere the men were already burying them. In front of this lane was a long double line of dead showing where they fell in line of battle. The line was a quarter of a mile in length and they were close enough to touch each other. In front of this again was another line along a fence row. They were at least a thousand Rebel dead on this field which joined and was part of that I looked at yesterday in front of Sumner. . . This exceeds all the slaughter I had yet seen. On the river side of the Hagerstown pike and in the wood behind the church there were many more
bodies. . .
It soon came to be understood that the retreat had been successfully conducted and they were all safe, having abandoned only two field pieces. From the questions asked on the subject of local geography, I judge we may have some intention of marching on Harpers Ferry . . . We captured yesterday an aide of General Stuart named Turner, a pleasant-mannered youth. I have met with no Rebel prisoner yet whose conversation amounted to anything.
|William G. LeDuc|
|Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.|
In the dead of the night which closed upon the bloody field of Antietam, my household was startled from its slumbers by the loud summons of a telegraphic messenger. The air had been heavy all day with rumors of battle, and thousands and tens of thousands had walked the streets with throbbing hearts, in dread anticipation of the tidings any hour might bring. We rose hastily, and presently the messenger was admitted. I took the envelope from his hand, opened it, and read:—
Capt H wounded shot through the neck thought not mortal at KeedysvilleWILLIAM G LEDUC
Through the neck,—no bullet left in wound. Windpipe, food-pipe, carotid, jugular, half a dozen smaller, but still formidable, vessels, a great braid of nerves, each as big as a lamp-wick, spinal cord,—ought to kill at once, if at all. Thought not mortal, or not thought mortal,—which was it? The first; that is better than the second would be.—“Keedysville, a post-office, Washington Co., Maryland.” Leduc? Leduc? Don’t remember that name.—The boy is waiting for his money. A dollar and thirteen cents. Has nobody got thirteen cents? Don’t keep that boy waiting,—how do we know what messages he has got to carry?
The boy had another message to carry. It was to the father of Lieutenant-Colonel Wilder Dwight, informing him that his son was grievously wounded in the same battle, and was lying at Boonsborough, a town a few miles this side of Keedysville. . . . Calling upon this gentleman, I found that he meant to leave in the quarter past two o’clock train, taking with him Dr. George H. Gay, an accomplished and energetic surgeon, equal to any difficult question or pressing emergency. I agreed to accompany them, and we met in the cars. I felt myself peculiarly fortunate in having companions whose society would be a pleasure, whose feelings would harmonize with my own, and whose assistance I might, in case of need, be glad to claim. . .
In Philadelphia] I went straight to the house in Walnut Street where the Captain would be heard of, if anywhere in this region. His lieutenant-colonel was there, gravely wounded; his college-friend and comrade in arms, a son of the house, was there, injured in a similar way; another soldier, brother of the last, was there, prostrate with fever. A fourth bed was waiting ready for the Captain, but not one word had been heard of him, though inquiries had been made in the towns from and through which the father had brought his two sons and the lieutenant-colonel . . . In Baltimore as we stood waiting on the platform for a train to Frederick, a telegraphic message was handed in silence to my companion. Sad news: the lifeless body of the son he was hastening to see was even now on its way to him in Baltimore. It was no time for empty words of consolation: I knew what he had lost, and that now was not the time to intrude upon a grief borne as men bear it, felt as women feel it . . .
As we emerged from Frederick, we struck at once upon the trail from the great battle-field. The road was filled with straggling and wounded soldiers. All who could travel on foot—multitudes with slight wounds of the upper limbs, the head or face—were told to take up their beds—a light burden, or none at all—and walk . . .For more than a week there had been sharp fighting all along this road. Through the streets of Frederick, through Crampton’s Gap, over South Mountain, sweeping at last the hills and the woods that skirt the windings of the Antietam, the long battle had travelled, like one of those tornadoes which tear their path through our fields and villages. The slain of higher condition, “embalmed” and iron-cased, were sliding off on the railways to their far homes; the dead of the rank-and-file were being gathered up and committed hastily to the earth; the gravely wounded were cared for hard by the scene of conflict, or pushed a little way along to the neighboring villages; while those who could walk were meeting us, as I have said, at every step in the road. It was a pitiable sight, truly pitiable, yet so vast, so far beyond the possibility of relief, that many single sorrows of small dimensions have wrought upon my feelings more than the sight of this great caravan of maimed pilgrims. . .
The principal collections of the wounded were in the churches. Boards were laid over the tops of the pews, on these some straw was spread, and on this the wounded lay, with little or no covering other than such scanty clothes as they had on. There were wounds of all degrees of severity, but I heard no groans or murmurs. Most of the sufferers were hurt in the limbs, some had undergone amputation, and all had, I presume, received such attention as was required. Still, it was but a rough and dreary kind of comfort that the extemporized hospitals suggested. I could not help thinking the patients must be cold; but they were used to camp-life, and did not complain. The men who watched were not of the soft-handed variety of the race. One of them was smoking his pipe as he went from bed to bed. I saw one poor fellow who had been shot through the breast; his breathing was labored, and he was tossing, anxious and restless. The men were debating about the opiate he was to take, and I was thankful that I happened there at the right moment to see that he was well narcotized for the night.
Was it possible that my Captain could be lying on the straw in one of these places? Certainly possible, but not probable; but as the lantern was held over each bed, it was with a kind of thrill that I looked upon the features it illuminated. Many times, as I went from hospital to hospital in my wanderings, I started as some faint resemblance—the shade of a young man’s hair, the outline of his half-turned face—recalled the presence I was in search of . . .
A ride of some three hours brought us to Boonsborough, where I roused the unfortunate army-surgeon who had charge of the hospitals, and who was trying to get a little sleep after his fatigues and watchings. He bore this cross very creditably, and helped me to explore all places where my soldier might be lying among the crowds of wounded . .
We followed the road through the village for a space, then turned off to the right, and wandered somewhat vaguely, for want of precise directions, over the hills. Inquiring as we went, we forded a wide creek in which soldiers were washing their clothes, the name of which we did no then know, but which must have been the Antietam. At one point we met a party, women among them, bringing off various trophies they had picked up on the battle-field. Still wandering along, we were at last pointed to a hill in the distance, a part of the summit of which was covered with Indian-corn. There, we were told, some of the fiercest fighting of the day had been done. The fences were taken down so as to make a passage across the fields, and the tracks worn within the last few days looked like old roads. A board was nailed to the tree, bearing the name, as well as I could make it out, of Gardiner, of a New-Hampshire regiment. On coming near the brow of the hill, we met a party carrying picks and spades. "How many?" "Only one." The dead were nearly all buried, then, in this region of the field of strife. We stopped the wagon, and, getting out, began to look around us. Hard by was a large pile of muskets, scores, if not hundreds, which had been picked up, and were guarded for the Government. A long ridge of fresh gravel rose before us. A board stuck up in front of it bore this inscription, the first part of which was, I believe, not correct: "The Rebel General Anderson and 80 Rebels are buried in this hole." Other similar ridges were marked with the number of dead lying under them. The whole ground was strewed with fragments of clothing, haversacks, canteens, cap-boxes, bullets, cartridge-boxes, cartridges, scraps of paper, portions of bread and meat.
I will keep this stained letter for them until peace comes back, if it comes in my time . .
|Grave of Union Lt. John A. Clark, 7th Michigan Infantry,|
near body of dead Confederate soldier
|John A. Clark, 7th Michigan Infantry|
It was understood that we were to attack again at daylight on the 19th, but as our troops moved up it was found the Rebels had departed. . . .We lay under arms all day, waiting orders. I took the delay to ride over the field of battle. The Rebel dead, even in the woods last occupied by them, was very great. In one place, in front of the position of my corps, apparently a whole regiment had been cut down in line. They lay in two ranks, as straightly aligned as on a dress parade. There must have been a brigade, as part of the line on the left had been buried. I counted what appeared to be a single regiment and found 149 dead in the line and about 70 in front and rear, making over 200 dead in one Rebel regiment. In riding over the field I think I must have seen at least 3,000. In one place for nearly a mile they lay as thick as autumn leaves along a narrow lane cut below the natural surface, into which they seemed to have tumbled. Eighty had been buried in one pit, and yet no impression had apparently been made on the unburied host. The cornfield beyond was dotted all over with those killed in retreat. The wounded Rebels had been carried away in great numbers and yet every farmyard and haystack seemed a large hospital.
The number of dead horses was high. They lay, like the men, in all attitudes. One beautiful milk-white animal had died in so graceful a position that I wished for its photograph. Its legs were doubled under and its arched neck gracefully turned to one side, as if looking back to the ball-hole in its side. Until you got to it, it was hard to believe the horse was dead.
Another feature of the field was the mass of army accouterments, clothing, etc. scattered everywhere or lying in heaps where the contest had been severest.
. . . I marvel, not only at my own escape, as I was particularly exposed, on account of raw troops to be handled, but at the escape of any mounted officer.
The principle hospital was established in the brick church near the upper end of the town. Boards were laid on top of the seats, then straw and blankets, and most of the worse cases of wounded were taken to this, the headquarters. . . The Surgeons, myself and a corps of nurses with sleeves rolled up, worked with tender care and anxiety to relieve the pain and save the lives of all we could.
A pit was dug just under the window at the back of the church and as soon as a limb was amputated I would take it to the window and drop it outside into the pit. The arms, legs, feet and hands that were dropped into that hole would amount to several hundred pounds.
Sept. 18, 1862 — Today I saw the leg above the knee taken off a large man. They first cut the flesh around where they intended to cut it off and then took up the arteries and tied the ends of them. Then shoved the flesh up the bone 3 or 4 inches, and then sawed it off. Drew the flesh back. Closed it together, and the job was done.
|Smith barn being used as field hospital|
September 21, 18628th Florida Volunteer Infantry RegimentShepherdstown, Jefferson County VirginiaMy dear wife,I write to let you know that I am now in this place badly wounded, was shot onWednesday the 17th near Sharpsburg Washington County Maryland, about three miles from this place. The ball entered my left shoulder and lodged in my brest here it still is. I want you or my brother to come to see me Come by Richmond in Virginia then on to Winchester where you will only be twenty two miles from here. You can then get a conveyance to this place probably by the railway which comes down to Harpers Ferry where a connection is made to a station called Kearneys Ville that is only five miles from here and by the time can here from me and get to this region of country the stage which runs to that place in times of quiet about here, may be running again. We have had hard marching to do, and desperate fighting, our Captain was killed the same day I was shot.I remain as ever yourDevoted husband
Bird B Wright
September 22, 1862, Battlefield Hospital near Sharpsburg
My Dear Wife;
Day before yesterday I dressed the wounds of 64 different men - some having two or three each. Yesterday I was at work from daylight till dark - today I am completely exhausted - but stall soon be able to go at it again.
The days after the battle are a thousand times worse than the day of the battle – and the physical pain is not the greatest pain suffered. How awful it is - you have not can have until you see it any idea of affairs after a battle.
The dead appear sickening but they suffer no pain. But the poor wounded mutilated soldiers that yet have life and sensation make a most horrid picture. I pray God may stop such infernal work - through perhaps he has sent it upon us for our sins. Great indeed must have been our sins if such is our punishment.
Our Reg. Started this morning for Harpers Ferry - 14 miles. I am detailed with others to remain here until the wounded are removed - then join the Reg. With my nurses. I expect there will be another great fight at Harpers Ferry.
Carrie I dreamed of home night before last. I love to dream of home it seems so much like really being there. I dreamed that I was passing Hibbards house and saw you and Lud. in the window. After then I saw you in some place I cannot really know where -you kissed me - and told me you loved me - thoughyou did not the first time you saw me. Was not that quite a soldier dream?
That night had been away to a hospital to see some wounded men - returned late. I fastened my horse to a peach tree - fed him with wheat and hay from a barn near by - then I slept and dreamed of my loved ones away in N.H. Write soon as you can. Tell me all you can about my business affairs and prospects for the future in Bath. Will Dr. Boynton be likely to get a strong hold there. One thing sure Cad, I shall return to Bath - if I live - and spend my days there. I feel so in that way now. Give me all news you can. Tell Parker and John and the girls to write although I can not answer them all. Tell Parker I will answer his as soon as I can. In this letter I send you a bit of gold lace such as the rebel officers have. This I cut from a rebel officers coat on the battlefield. He was a Lieut. I have made the acquaintance of two rebel officers - prisoners in our hands. One is a physician - both are masons - both very intelligent, gentlemanly men. Each is wounded in the leg. They are great favorites with our officers. One of them was brought off the field in hottest of the fight by our 5th N.H. officers -
he giving them evidence of his being a mason.
Now do write soon. Kisses to you Clint & Kate. Love to all.
Yours as ever
|George Templeton Strong|
It was fearful to see . . . Gustave Dore's pictures embodied in shivering, agonizing, suppurating flesh and blood.
Mrs. Gordon was soon with me. When it was known that the battle was on, she had at once started toward the front. The doctors were doubtful about the propriety of admitting her to my room; but I told them to let her come. I was more apprehensive of the effect of the meeting upon her nerves than upon mine.
My face was black and shapeless--so swollen that one eye was entirely hidden and the other nearly so. My right leg and left arm and shoulder were bandaged and propped with pillows. I knew she would be greatly shocked. As she reached the door and looked, I saw at once that I must reassure her. Summoning all my strength, I said: "Here's your handsome husband; been to an Irish wedding." Her answer was a suppressed scream, whether of anguish or relief at finding me able to speak, I do not know.
Thenceforward, for the period in which my life hung in the balance, she sat at my bedside, trying to supply concentrated nourishment to sustain me against the constant drainage. With my jaw immovably set, this was exceedingly difficult and discouraging. My own confidence in ultimate recovery, however, was never shaken until erysipelas, that deadly foe of the wounded, attacked my left arm. The doctors told Mrs. Gordon to paint my arm above the wound three or four times a day with iodine. She obeyed the doctors by painting it, I think, three or four hundred times a day. Under God's providence, I owe my life to her incessant watchfulness night and day, and to her tender nursing through weary weeks and anxious months.
Some one suggested that yellow was the hospital color, and immediately everybody who could lay hands upon a yellow rag hoisted it over the house. The whole town was a hospital; there was scarcely a building that could not with truth seek protection under that plea, and the fantastic little strips were soon flaunting their ineffectual remonstrance from every roof-top and chimney. Of course, they did not stop the firing; but when this specific failed, the excitement became wild and ungovernable. It would have been ludicrous had it not produced so much suffering. The danger was less than it seemed, for McClellan, after all, was not bombarding the town, but the army, and most of the shells flew over us and exploded in the fields; but aim cannot be always sure, and enough shells fell short to convince the terrified citizens that their homes were about to be battered down over their ears. The better people kept some outward coolness, with perhaps a sort of ‘noblesse oblige’ feeling but the poorer classes acted as if the town were already in a blaze, and rushed from their houses with their families and household goods to make their way into the country. The road was thronged, the streets blocked; men were vociferating, women crying, children screaming; wagons, ambulances, guns, caissons, horsemen, footmen, all mingled - nay, even wedged and jammed together - in one struggling, shouting mass. It was Pandemonium. . . .
We had plenty to do, but all that day we went about with hearts bursting with rage and shame, and breaking with pity and grief for the needless, waste of life. The amateur nurses all stood firm, and managed to be cheerful for the sake of keeping their men quiet, but they could not be without fear.
|Edward Porter Alexander|
By the Good Lord’s putting it into McClellan’s heart to keep Fitz John Porter’s corps entirely out to the battle, & Franklin nearly all out. I doubt whether many hearts but McClellan’s would have accepted the suggestions, even from a Divine source, for common sense was just shouting, "your adversary is backed against a river, with no bridge & only one ford, & that the worst one on the whole river. If you whip him now you destroy him utterly, root & branch & bag & baggage….& such game is worth great risks. Every man must fight & keep on fighting for all he is worth.’" No military genius, but only the commonest kind of every day common sense, was necessary to appreciate that.
In all his months as army commander, Major General George Brinton
McClellan fought just one battle, Antietam, from start to finish. Antietam, then, must serve as the measure of his generalship. Colonel Ezra Carman, who survived that bloody field and later wrote the most detailed tactical study of the fighting there, had it right when he observed that on September 17, 1862, “more errors were committed by the Union commander than in any other battle of the war.”
General McClellan’s most grievous error was hugely overestimating Confederate numbers. This delusion dominated his military character. In August 1861, taking command of the Army of the Potomac, he began entirely on his own to over-count the enemy’s forces. Later he was abetted by Allan Pinkerton, his inept intelligence chief, but even Pinkerton could not keep pace with McClellan’s imagination. On the eve of Antietam, McClellan would tell Washington he faced a gigantic Rebel army “amounting to not less than 120,000 men,” outnumbering his own army “by at least twenty-five per cent.” So it was that George McClellan imagined three Rebel soldiers for every one he faced on the Antietam battlefield. Every decision he made that September 17 was dominated by his fear of counterattack by phantom Confederate battalions.
The testing of battle uncovered another McClellan failing – his management of his own generals. Of his six corps commanders, he displayed confidence in only two, Fitz John Porter and Joseph Hooker. He had termed 65-year-old Edwin Sumner “even a greater fool than I had supposed,” and regarded William Franklin as slow and lacking in energy. He had recently rebuked Ambrose Burnside for his tepid pursuit of the Rebels after the fighting at South ountain. Joseph Mansfield, new to command, was an unknown quantity. McClellan called no council of his generals to explain his intentions, issued no plan of battle, and on September 17 conferred at length only with Fitz John Porter.
Antietam must be judged the best chance to utterly defeat Robert E. Lee until that day two and a half years later at Appomattox. Against an enemy he outnumbered better than two to one, George McClellan devoted himself to not losing rather than winning. Nor would he dare to renew the battle the next day. The final measure of his self-delusion is his letter to his wife on September 18: “I hope that God has given us a great success. It is all in his hands, where I am content to leave it. The spectacle yesterday was the grandest I could conceive of—nothing could be more sublime.Those in whose judgment I rely,” he wrote, “tell me that I fought the battle splendidly & that it was a masterpiece of art.”
I have insisted that Stanton shall be removed & that Halleck shall give way to me as Comdr in Chief. I will not serve under him - for he is an incompetent fool - in no way fit for the important place he holds. . . The only safety for the country & me is to get rid of the lot of them. . . .I have shown that I can fight battles and win them! I think my enemies [the anti-McClellan faction in Washington] are pretty effectively killed by this time!
My recollection is uncertain as to the time which elapsed before my arm received attention. Sometimes I think it was twenty-four hours. At other times I make it thirty-two hours.
At all events, when they did get at me it was much swollen, and they and I scooped out the maggots from my side and arm which had been generated by the wound.
The long delay was all right. Every one was immensely busy, too busy with more urgent cases, until a cavalry man from Philadelphia had looked at me as he passed, and, looking again, had asked my name. " Hallowell," I replied. " Are you from Philadelphia ?" "My father is Morris L. Hallowell of that city," I said. "What! " he exclaimed. "Why, I know him!" It was not long before he had several surgeons at me. Among them was Surgeon Thomas Antisell, the Medical Director of the 12th Army Corps. He said there was a chance to save the arm, and asked me whether he should try. I may have told him to take the chance, but I think I told him I did not care. At all events, after etherization I found the arm there, where it now is, a beautiful exhibit of the surgical operation known as exsection.
The surgeon handed me three quarters of an inch of bone to keep as a souvenir. I told him to throw it away. When coming out of my stupor I heard some one say, "He will hardly pull through." I did not then care a rap whether I should pull through, and I think they might have buried me alive without protest. . .
While lying on my cot I was startled to see my brother Ned come wandering in. He looked at me a second, saying, "They told me thee was dead."
. . . He had maintained his search for his brother, albeit his oncoming typhoid fever had unhinged his mind. . . . The next surprise was my blessed father. How in the name of all that is rational his beaming face was then and there permitted to shine upon me I knew not. Was he tired out? Not a bit tired. Father never tired when he had something to his fancy to put through. Into a hack Ned and Lieutenant-Colonel Palfrey and I were hustled. . . . Ned carried on pretty hard, pulling at the curtains, and starting at uniformed men who he thought were after him for desertion. We were driven to Hagerstown. There father put us into an empty freight car. . . . The thought came into his mind that the floor of a freight car would not be a suitable place for him. Through an open door of a house near by he espied a rocking-chair. No one was in the room to consent. The train might start at any moment. Promptly he appropriated the chair, and made off with it. His triumph was cut short by a pursuing woman. Her he pacified by a token of good will big enough to put a rocking-chair into every room of her house.
As the train started, a little contraband boy begged to be taken along. Father yanked him into a dark corner of the car, and off we started on an all-night journey to Philadelphia. Lieutenant-Colonel Palfrey, under pressure of great suffering, begged hard to be put off at the several stations where the train stopped. Altogether it was a great night for father as he sat contented, comfortable, and satisfied in that rocking-chair, with three officers and one little contraband under his masterful control. At Philadelphia the contraband disappeared. The others were taken to our home, the House called Beautiful, as Doctor O. W. Holmes has written. Wounded officers of the 20th had been there before. Our home was a hospital, so to speak, whose matron was your Grandmother Hallowell, and whose nurses were your three sister aunts, Anna, Emily, and Susan.
Holmes and Hallowell were taken to the Hallowells’ home in Philadelphia, referred to as the “House called Beautiful” by his father, the Hallowell's family friend, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., who said it “was a haven of rest and refreshment for wounded soldiers of the Union Army."
Within a few days after the battle, Clara Barton collapsed from lack of sleep and a case of typhoid fever. She returned to Washington lying in a wagon, exhausted and delirious.Tactically, the battle ended in a draw. Strategically it was a victory for the Union only
because McClellan retained the field while Lee's invasion had end. Officials were dubious
about McClellan's reports of a great victory. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, wrote in
September 18, Thursday. The last two or three days have been pregnant with rumors and speculations of an exciting character. . . .We have authentic news that a long and sanguinary battle has been fought. McClellan telegraphs that the fight between the two armies was for fourteen hours. The Rebels must have been in strong position to have maintained such a fight against our large army
. . . McClellan telegraphs that our loss is heavy, particularly in generals, but gives neither names nor results. His dispatches are seldom full, clear, or satisfactory. "Behaved splendidly," "performed handsomely," but wherein or what was accomplished is never told. Our anxiety is intense.
On Sunday, the 13th of July, 1862, President Lincoln invited me to accompany him in his carriage to the funeral of an infant child of Mr. Stanton. Secretary Seward and Mrs. Frederick Seward were also in the carriage. . . It was on this occasion and on this ride that he first mentioned to Mr. Seward and myself the subject of emancipating the slaves by proclamation in case the Rebels did not cease to persist in their war on the Government and the Union, of which he saw no evidence. He dwelt earnestly on the gravity, importance, and delicacy of the movement, said he had given it much thought and had about come to the conclusion that it was a military necessity absolutely essential for the salvation of the Union, that we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued, etc., etc. This was, he said, the first occasion when he had mentioned the subject to any one, and wished us to frankly state how the proposition struck us. Mr. Seward said the subject involved consequences so vast and momentous that he should wish to bestow on it mature reflection before giving a decisive answer, but his present opinion inclined to the measure as justifiable, and perhaps he might say expedient and necessary. These were also my views. Two or three times on that ride the subject, which was of course an absorbing one for each and all, was adverted to, and before separating the President desired us to give the question special and deliberate attention, for he was earnest in the conviction that something must be done. It was a new departure for the President, for until this time, in all our previous interviews, whenever the question of emancipation or the mitigation of slavery had been in any way alluded to, he had been prompt and emphatic in denouncing any interference by the General Government with the subject.
I cannot imagine that any European power would dare to recognize and aid the Southern Confederacy if it became clear that the Confederacy stands for slavery and the Union for freedom.
|Lincoln and his Cabinet|
On January 1, 1863, around 20,000 to 50,000 slaves in regions where rebellion had already been subdued were immediately emancipated. Although people then and now have claimed that the Emancipation Proclamation did not immediately free a single slave, thousand of slaves were freed during the course of the war, beginning with the day it took effect. Eyewitness accounts at places such as Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Port Royal, South Carolina, record celebrations on January 1 as thousands of slaves were informed of their new legal status of freedom. Estimates of the number of slaves freed immediately by the Emancipation Proclamation are uncertain; one contemporary estimate put the 'contraband' population of Union-occupied North Carolina at 10,000, and the Sea Islands of South Carolina also had a substantial population. Those 20,000 slaves were freed immediately by the Emancipation Proclamation. This Union-occupied zone where freedom began at once included parts of eastern North Carolina, the Mississippi Valley, northern Alabama, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, a large part of Arkansas, and the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina. Although some counties of Union-occupied Virginia were exempted from the Proclamation, the lower Shenandoah Valley, and the area around Alexandria were covered. Emancipation was immediately enforced as Union soldiers advanced into the Confederacy. Slaves fled their masters and were often assisted by Union soldiers. Booker T. Washington, as an 7 year-old enslaved boy in Virginia, remembered the day:
As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom.... Some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper—the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see.
The Proclamation also announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.
|George Washington Whitman|
On the Potomac River Near the Village of Antietam Md
Sunday Sept 21/62
I had just commenced to write you a letter the day before yesterday when the order was given for our regt to fall in for an advance, and I had only time to let you know that I was alive and well when I have to stop writing and get ready to move.
. . . I will tell you of what we have done for the last two weeks. We left Washington by the road leading to Frederick Md, on Sunday Sept 7th . . Early on the morning of the 17th the first and second Brigades of our Division was ordered down to take the bridge. The first Brigade was ordered to take a position, at our end of the bridge and try and drive the enemy from behind his shelter while our Brigade which is the 2nd was to be held in reserve. The 1st did not seem inclined to advance to the position assigned them, but rather held back, so Burnside who was looking on ordered Sturgis to send our Brigade there saying, (so the story goes) that he knew we would take it. As soon as we were ordered to forward we started on a double quick and gained the position, although we lost quite a number of men in doing it. . . Things began to look rather squally and although our Brigade, was nearly out of ammunition we were ordered to the front again. We formed line of battle and advanced over the hill untill we met the enemy who was moveing down towards us, when both parties took a position, and we went at it again for the 2d time in one day.
Our Regt fired every round of ammunition we had, and took from all the dead and wounded on the field and then we lay down as we would not leave the field untill we were ordered. We lay there about half an hour without fireing a shot which seemed to puzzle the rebels very much as they did not come any closer to us, but kept up a pretty brisk fire from where they were.
After a while another regiment was sent in to relieve us and we were ordered back to the bridge where we were suplied with ammunition, and something to eat, and as it was almost night and the fireing had ceased on both sides, we were ordered to lay down and rest ourselvs and tired enough we was after our days work as you can imagine. . . . The next morning niether side seemed inclined to commence opperations, so we remained all day each party occupying the same position they did when the fighting ceased the night before. During the day we took an account of stock, and found we had about 180 men left. . . . At daylight on the morning of Sept 19th we found the enemy had left and we moved foreward about 3 miles to the Potomac River where we are now and as near as I can find out the enemy are all out of Md.
Wel Mother I guess you will get tired before you get through reading this letter. You must not think strange when you do not hear from me often, for sometimes I do not get a chance to write for weeks. I received last week a letter from you dated the 7th and one from Jeff of the 8th. I was very glad to hear you are all getting along well. I hope Mother you will take good care of yourself and not worry and frett, for that troubles me more than anything else. I supose you know more about the situation of affairs than I do as I do not see the papers often, but it seems to me the rebels have been terribly cut up within the last few days and as near as I can find out they are all driven out of Md. I dont know how soon I will have a chance to send this, but I am pretty sure that we will move from here in the course of a day or two, and will probably go to Harpers Ferry so I shall have a chance to send it from there, if not before. I heard General Burnside say the other day that our regt would now have a chance to go in camp and rest awhile so I think likely we shall stay at Harpers Ferry awhile. . . I have talked with a number of rebel prisoners lately and the more inteligent of them say that the late raid into Md. was a desperate thing, but they had to do something as they were in such a bad fix in Virginia that the war will soon have to be brought to a close. Well Mother I am about tired of writing so I will stop. I will write again soon if I have a chance I would like to see you all very much and mabe I will get a chance to come home before a great while. Good bye Mother Much love to Mattie, the Baby and all the rest. G.W. Whitman
Near Antietam Md.
Sept 30th 1862
Dear MotherWe are still laying quietly at the place from which I dated my last letter. I thought when I wrote you last which was 5 or 6 days since that we should cross over into Virginia before now, but as we are comfortably situated, I think very likely we will remain here for some time. Everything now is quiet and it is quite a releif to be out of the sound of canon after hearing it almost daily, and sometimes nightly, for two or three weeks. I think the late rebel movement into Maryland has been a very unfortunate one for them, as they did not meet with anything like the encouragement from the Marylanders that they expected, and I believe that after the battle of Bull Run they firmly expected to invade Pennsylvania if not capture Washington and Baltimore, and now to be badly beaten twice, and driven back with such terrible loss, must be very discouraging and had it not been for bad management, cowardice, or treachery at Harpers Fery, I believe we could have bagged the most of their army.
We are now about 8 miles from Harpers Fery and are in the midst of Mountains, from which the view is very fine indeed. We have enough to eat and plenty of good cool spring water. We have been provided with shelter tents, which are made of two peices of light canvas about 6 ft square each which button togather in the centre and make one tent to accomodate two men, they are very good on account of the heavy dews we have here, and for a shade, but as the two ends are open they are not much use in a storm. . . .
Mother the last letter I received from home is dated Sept 8th and I hope if you have not writen you will write as soon as you get this. . . . I think I stand a good chance to be made a 1st Lieut. I think, after Cap gets back if everything remains quiet I shall try for a furlough to come home for a few days and see you all. I have stuck pretty close to buisness since I have been sogering, and the regt never went on a march or into a fight without my being on hand.
I see by the papers that Uncle Abe has issued a proclamation declaring the slaves free in all the States that are in rebellion on the first of next Jan. I dont know what effect it is going to have on the war, but one thing is certain, he has got to lick the south before he can free the niggers, and unless he drives ahead and convinces the south, before the first of January, that we are bound to lick them, and it would be better for them to behave themselvs and keep their slaves, than to get licked and lose them, I dont think the proclamation will do much good.
Mother I have three months pay due me to day so dont deprive yourself of anything you need. . . I often think that I can imagine just what you are all doing at home and ile bet now, that Mother is makeing pies. I think Mat is putting up shirt bosoms like the deuce so as to get through before dinner I guess Sis is down stairs helping Mother mix the dough, Walt is up stairs writing, Jeff is down town at the Office, Jess is pealing Potatoes for dinner, and Tobias has gone down cellar for a scuttle of coal, Bunkum I guess is around somewhere looking for a good chance to go sogering.Well Mother take good care of yourself and dont get exciteded.
Much love to all G. W. Whitman
|Walt Whitman, 1863|
December 29, 1862.
Dear, dear Mother,
Friday the 19th inst. I succeeded in reaching the camp of the 51st New York, and found George alive and well—
In order to make sure that you would get the good news, I sent back by messenger to Washington (I dare say you did not get it for some time) a telegraphic dispatch, as well as a letter—and the same to Hannah at Burlington. I have staid in camp with George ever since, till yesterday, when I came back to Washington—about the 24th George got Jeff's letter of the 20th.
Mother, how much you must have suffered, all that week, till George's letter came—and all the rest must too. As to me, I know I put in about three days of the greatest suffering I ever experienced in my life. I wrote to Jeff how I had my pocket picked in a jam and hurry, changing cars, at Philadelphia, so that I landed here without a dime.
The next two days I spent hunting through the hospitals, walking all day and night, unable to ride, trying to get information, trying to get access to big people, &c—I could not get the least clue to anything. . . But Thursday afternoon, I lit on a way to get down on the government boat that runs to Aquia creek, and so by railroad to the neighborhood of Falmouth, opposite Fredericksburgh — So by degrees I worked my way to Ferrero's brigade, which I found Friday afternoon without much trouble after I got in camp.
When I found dear brother George, and found that he was alive and well, O you may imagine how trifling all my little cares and difficulties seemed—they vanished into nothing. And now that I have lived for eight or nine days amid such scenes as the camps furnish, and had a practical part in it all, and realize the way that hundreds of thousands of good men are now living, and have had to live for a year or more, not only without any of the comforts, but with death and sickness and hard marching and hard fighting, (and no success at that,) for their continual experience—really nothing we call trouble seems worth talking about.
One of the first things that met my eyes in camp, was a heap of feet, arms, legs, &c. under a tree in front a hospital, the Lacy house.
George is very well in health, has a good appetite—I think he is at times more wearied out and homesick than he shows, but stands it upon the whole very well. Every one of the soldiers, to a man, wants to get home. . . You have no idea how letters from home cheer one up in camp, and dissipate home sickness.
While I was there George still lived in Capt. Francis's tent—there were five of us altogether, to eat, sleep, write, &c. in a space twelve feet square, but we got along very well—the weather all along was very fine—and would have got along to perfection, but Capt. Francis is not a man I could like much—I had very little to say to him. George is about building a place, half-hut and half-tent, for himself—(he is probably about it this very day)—and then he will be better off, I think. Every Captain has a tent, in which he lives, transacts company business, &c. has a cook, (or man of all work,) and in the same tent mess and sleep his Lieutenants, and perhaps the 1st sergeant. They have a kind of fire-place, and the cook's fire is outside, on the open ground. George had very good times while Francis was away—the cook, a young disabled soldier, Tom, is an excellent fellow, and a first-rate cook, and the 2d Lieutenant, Pooley, is a tip-top young Pennsylvanian.
Tom thinks all the world of George—when he heard he was wounded, on the day of the battle, he left every thing, got across the river, and went hunting for George through the field, through thick and thin. I wrote to Jeff that George was wounded by a shell, a gash in the cheek—you could stick a splint through into the mouth, but it has healed up without difficulty already. Every thing is uncertain about the army, whether it moves or stays where it is. There are no furloughs granted at present. I will stay here for the present, at any rate long enough to see if I can get any employment at any thing, and shall write what luck I have. Of course I am unsettled at present. Dear mother, my love, Walt.
That is not the game . . the object is that neither army shall get much advantage of the other; that both shall be kept in the field till they are exhausted, when we will make a compromise and save slavery.
In my view it is wholly inadmissable for any gentleman holding a military commission from the United States to utter such sentiments as Major Key is within [a packet of documents] proved to have done. Therefore let Major John J Key be forthwith dismissed from the Military service of the United States.
I cannot make up my mind to fight for such an accursed doctrine as that of a servile insurrection - it is to infamous . . . almost impossible to retain my commission & self respect at the same time.
I am very anxious to know how you and men like you regard the recent Proclamations of the Presdt inaugurating servile war, emancipating the slaves, & at one stroke of the pen changing our free institutions into a despotism . . .
We pointed out very clearly that any public utterance by him in his official character criticising the civil policy of the administration would be properly regarded as a usurpation.
Oct. 1, Sharpsburg, 7.30 P.M.--… Received this morning a mysterious dispatch from which I inferred that the President was on his way hither. Went to Harper’s Ferry and found him with half a dozen Western officers. He remains at Harper’s Ferry tonight….
Oct. 2, A.M.--… I found the President at Gen. Sumner’s headquarters at Harper’s Ferry; none of the cabinet were with him, merely some Western officers, such as McClernand and others. His ostensible purpose is to see the troops and the battlefield; I incline to think that the real purpose of his visit is to push me into a premature advance into Virginia. I may be mistaken but think not. The real truth is that my army is not fit to advance. The old regiments are reduced to mere skeletons and are completely tired out. They need rest and filling up. The new regiments are not fit for the field. The remains of Pope’s army are pretty well broken up and ought not to be made to fight for some little time yet. Cavalry and artillery horses are broken down. So it goes. These people don’t know what an army requires, and therefore act stupidly…
Oct. 3.-- … I was riding with the President all yesterday afternoon, and expect to do the same today. He seems in quite a good humor; is accompanied only by Western people.
|The Grove Farm|
The president remarked to the wounded Confederates that if they had no objection he would be glad to take them by the hand.
|Lincoln with Chair|
President Lincoln visited and reviewed the troops. In appearance, Lincoln was not a prepossessing figure, especially on horseback: tall, think and angular, with arms and legs that seemed out of all proportion to his body, but with a kindly, anxious face, furrowed with care and anxiety. As he passed along the lines his black cloth suit and high plug hat contrasted strangely with the gold and glitter of McClellan and his staff, but he seemed to look right into the soul of each individual soldier and although he uttered not a word, yet he left an abiding impression that he was our fast and sympathizing friend.
The President was here a few days since. I had quite a long talk with him, sitting on a pile of logs. He is really the most unaffected, simple-minded, honest, and frank man I have ever met.
Oct. 4.-- The President is still here and goes to Frederick this morning. I will probably accompany him as far as the battlefield of South Mountain, so that my day will be pretty well used up.
Lincoln & McClellan at Antietam
Oct. 5. -- . . . The President left us about eleven yesterday morning. I went with him as far as over the battlefield of South Mountain, and on my way thither was quite surprised to meet Mr. Aspinwall en route to my camp…. The President was very kind personally; told me he was convinced I was the best general in the country, etc etc. He was very affable, and I really think he does feel very kindly towards me personally. I showed him the battlefields, and am sure he departed with a more vivid idea of the great difficulty of the task we had accomplished.
Mr. Aspinwall is decidedly of the opinion that it is my duty to submit to the President’s proclamation and quietly continue doing my duty as a soldier. I presume he is right, and am at least sure that he is honest in his opinion. I shall surely give his views full consideration. He is of the opinion that the nation cannot stand the burdens of the war much longer, and that a speedy solution is necessary. In this he is no doubt correct, and I hope sincerely that another successful battle may conclude my part of the work.
|George Armstrong Custer|
You ask me if I will not be glad when the last battle is fought. . . So far as the country is concerned I, of course, must wish for peace, and will be glad when the war is ended, but if I answer for myself alone, I must say that I shall regret to see the war end.
I would be willing, yes glad, to see a battle every day during my life. Now do not misunderstand me. I speak only of my own interests and desires . . . but as I said before, when I think of the pain & misery produced to individuals as well as the miserable sorrow caused throughout the land I cannot but earnestly hope for peace, and at an early date.
The living that throng Broadway care little perhaps for the Dead at Antietam, but we fancy they would jostle less carelessly down the great thoroughfare, saunter less at their ease, were a few dripping bodies, fresh from the field, laid along the pavement. There would be a gathering up of skirts and a careful picking of way; conversation would be less lively, and the general air of pedestrians more subdued.
As it is, the dead of the battle-field come up to us very rarely, even in dreams. We see the list in the morning paper at breakfast, but dismiss its recollection with the coffee. There is a confused mass of names, but they are all strangers; we forget the horrible significance that dwells amid the jumble of type. The roll we read is being called over in Eternity, and pale, trembling lips are answering to it. Shadowy fingers point from the page to a field where even imagination is loth to follow.
Each of these little names that the printer struck off so lightly last night, whistling over his work, and that we speak with a clip of the tongue, represents a bleeding, mangled corpse.
It is a thunderbolt that will crash into some brain -- a dull, dead, remorseless weight that will full upon some heart, straining it to breaking.
There is nothing very terrible to us, however, in in the list, though our sensations might be different if the newspaper carrier left the names on the battle-field and the bodies at our doors instead.
We recognize the battle-field as a reality, but it stands as a remote one. It is like a funeral next door. The crape on the bell-pull tells there is death in the house, and in the close carriage that rolls away with muffled wheels you know there rides a woman to whom the world is very dark now. But you only see the mourners in the last of the long line of carriages -- they ride very jollily and at their case, smoking cigars in a furtive and discursive manner, perhaps, and, were it not for the black gloves they wear, which the deceased was wise and liberal enough to furnish, it might be a wedding for all the world would know. It attracts your attention, but does not enlist your sympathy.
But it is very different when the hearse stops at your own door, and the corpse is carried out over your own threshold -- you know whether it is a wedding or a funeral then . . . Those who lose friends in battle know what battle-fields are, and our Marylanders, with their door-yards strewed with the dead and dying, and their houses turned into hospitals for the wounded, know what battle-fields are.
Mr. Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our dooryards and along the streets, he has done something very like it.
At the door of his gallery hangs a little placard, "The Dead of Antietam." Crowds of people are constantly going up the stairs; follow them, and you find them bending over photographic views of that fearful battle-field, taken immediately after the action. . . You will see hushed, reverend groups standing around these weird copies of carnage, bending down to look in the pale faces of the dead, chained by the strange spell that dwells in dead men's eyes. It seems somewhat singular that the same sun that looked down on the faces of the slain, blistering them, blotting out from the bodies all semblance to humanity, and hastening corruption, should have thus caught their features upon canvas, and given them perpetuity for ever. But so it is.
. . . These pictures have a terrible distinctness. By the aid of the magnifying glass, the very features of the slain may be distinguished. We would scarce choose to be in the gallery, when one of the women bending over them should recognize a husband, a son, or a brother in the still, lifeless lines of bodies, that lie ready for the gaping trenches.
|The Dead of Antietam|
the good of my country requires me to submit to all this from men whom I know to be greatly my inferior socially, intellectually and morally! There never was a truer epithet applied to a certain individual than that of the “Gorilla”.
Executive Mansion, Washington, Oct. 13, 1862.
Major General McClellan
My dear Sir
You remember my speaking to you of what I called your over-cautiousness. Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you can not do what the enemy is constantly doing? Should you not claim to be at least his equal in prowess, and act upon the claim?
As I understand, you telegraph Gen. Halleck that you can not subsist your army at Winchester unless the Railroad from Harper’s Ferry to that point be put in working order. But the enemy does now subsist his army at Winchester at a distance nearly twice as great from railroad transportation as you would have to do without the railroad last named. He now wagons from Culpepper C.H. which is just about twice as far as you would have to do from Harper’s Ferry. He is certainly not more than half as well provided with wagons as you are. I certainly should be pleased for you to have the advantage of the Railroad from Harper’s Ferry to Winchester, but it wastes all the remainder of autumn to give it to you; and, in fact ignores the question of time, which can not, and must not be ignored.
Again, one of the standard maxims of war, as you know, is “to operate upon the enemy’s communications as much as possible without exposing your own.” You seem to act as if this applies against you, but can not apply in your favor. Change positions with the enemy, and think you not he would break your communication with Richmond within the next twenty four hours? You dread his going into Pennsylvania. But if he does so in full force, he gives up his communications to you absolutely, and you have nothing to do but to follow, and ruin him; if he does so with less than full force, fall upon, and beat what is left behind all the easier.
. . . You know I desired, but did not order, you to cross the Potomac below, instead of above the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge. My idea was that this would at once menace the enemies’ communications, which I would seize if he would permit. If he should move Northward I would follow him closely, holding his communications. If he should prevent our seizing his communications, and move towards Richmond, I would press closely to him, fight him if a favorable opportunity should present, and, at least, try to beat him to Richmond on the inside track.
I say “try”; if we never try, we shall never succeed. . .
It is all easy if our troops march as well as the enemy; and it is unmanly to say they can not do it.
This letter is in no sense an order.
Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigues anything?
11 ½ pm Another interruption — this time more important. It was in the shape of dear good old Burnside accompanied by Genl Buckingham, the Sec’s Adjt Genl — they brought with them the order relieving me from the command of the Army of the Potomac, & assigning Burnside to the command. No cause is given. I am ordered to turn over the command immediately & repair to Trenton N.J. & on my arrival there to report by telegraph for future orders!!
Poor Burn feels dreadfully, almost crazy — I am sorry for him, & he never showed himself a better man or truer friend than now.
Of course I was much surprised — but as I rad the order int he presence of Genl Buckingham, I am sure that not a muscle quivered nor was the slightest expression of feeling visible on my face, which he watched closely. They shall not have that triumph. They have made a great mistake — alas for my poor country — I know in my innermost heart she never had a truer servant.
. . . Do not be at all worried — I am not. I have done the best I could for my country — to the last I have done my duty as I understand it. That I must have made many mistakes I cannot deny — I do not see any great blunders — but no one can judge of himself. Our consolation must be that we have tried to what was right — if we have failed it was not our fault.
We must encounter risks, if we fight, and we cannot carry on war without fighting. That was McClellan’s vice. He was always waiting to have everything just as he wanted it before he would attack.
|Cartoon about the "Chicago Platform"|
For my country’s sake I deplore the result, but the people have decided with their eyes wide open and I feel a great weight has been removed from my mind.
In 1868 your mother and I made our wedding trip to Antietam and other places. Of course we hunted up the Nicodemus house, where we found a worthy couple of that name. They proved to be Union people who had fled upon the approach of battle on September 17, 1862. I startled the old lady by asking after a little clock which had stood in a certain place on that day. She showed us the clock in an adjoining room, to which it had been removed.
Her curiosity was further excited when I asked her what she had intended to dowith all those jars of preserves. She replied that their business was to make preserves, and that a large supply was just ready for market when the battle came on, and the soldiers took it all. I confessed the theft, and was forgiven even before she was induced to accept twenty dollars.
As we departed your mother stubbed her toe against a bit of iron embedded in the yard, which proved to be an exploded Hotchkiss shell. She brought it home. The shell now stands upon the mantelpiece of our library.
To the indifferent inquirer who asks why Memorial Day is still kept up we may answer, it celebrates and solemnly reaffirms from year to year a national act of enthusiasm and faith. It embodies in the most impressive form our belief that to act with enthusiasm and faith is the condition of acting greatly. To fight out a war, you must believe something and want something with all your might. So must you do to carry anything else to an end worth reaching. More than that, you must be willing to commit yourself to a course, perhaps a long and hard one, without being able to foresee exactly where you will come out. All that is required of you is that you should go somewhither as hard as ever you can. The rest belongs to fate. . .Although desire cannot be imparted by argument, it can be by contagion. Feeling begets feeling, and great feeling begets great feeling. We can hardly share the emotions that make this day to us the most sacred day of the year, and embody them in ceremonial pomp, without in some degree imparting them to those who come after us. . . . Accidents may call up the events of the war. You see a battery of guns go by at a trot, and for a moment you are back at White Oak Swamp, or Antietam, or on the Jerusalem Road. You hear a few shots fired in the distance, and for an instant your heart stops as you say to yourself, “The skirmishers are at it!” and listen for the long roll of fire from the main line. You meet an old comrade after many years of absence; he recalls the moment that you were nearly surrounded by the enemy, and again there comes up to you that swift and cunning thinking on which once hung life and freedom—Shall I stand the best chance if I try the pistol or the sabre on that man who means to stop me? Will he get his carbine free before I reach him, or can I kill him first?
These and the thousand other events we have known are called up, I say, by accident, and, apart from accident, they lie forgotten.
But as surely as this day comes round we are in the presence of the dead. For one hour, twice a year at least—at the regimental dinner, where the ghosts sit at table more numerous than the living, and on this day when we decorate their graves—the dead come back and live with us. I see them now, more than I can number, as once I saw them on this earth. They are the same bright figures, or their counterparts, that come also before your eyes; and when I speak of those who were my brothers, the same words describe yours. I see a fair-haired lad, a lieutenant, and a captain on whom life had begun somewhat to tell, but still young, sitting by the long mess-table in camp before the regiment left the State, and wondering how many of those who gathered in our tent could hope to see the end of what was then beginning. For neither of them was that destiny reserved. I remember, as I awoke from my first long stupor in the hospital after the battle of Ball’s Bluff, I heard the doctor say, “He was a beautiful boy,” and I knew that one of those two speakers was no more. The other, after passing through all the previous battles, went into Fredericksburg with strange premonition of the end, and there met his fate. I see another youthful lieutenant as I saw him in the Seven Days, when I looked down the line at Glendale. The officers were at the head of their companies. The advance was beginning. We caught each other’s eye and saluted. When next I looked, he was gone. I see the brother of the last—the flame of genius and daring on his face—as he rode before us into the wood of Antietam, out of which came only dead and deadly wounded men.
. . . Grief is not the end of all. . . . Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death—of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring. As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.