Today is the 150th anniversary of the battle of Antietam. Here is an entry I posted about Antietam nine years ago:

Since the nation has just observed the anniversary of one of the deadliest days in American history, it is appropriate to note that today is the anniversary of the deadliest day in American history, the battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

I first visited the Antietam battlefield on a late spring day 15 years ago. It was shortly before sundown. I had parked my car on a road near an old church across from a large field. [While I knew I was in the general area of the Antietam battlefield,] I didn’t know yet what that field was. I walked onto it, and suddenly felt, in the grassy ground beneath my feet, what seemed to me like the death-passion of the hundreds or thousands of men who I realized had died on that spot. The mental traces of the experience of those men in the moments of their death—killing and being killed—were still present, and could still be immediately sensed. Then, as I walked around, I saw a memorial on the field, including a photograph of a huge pile of dead soldiers stacked up. From my later readings, I learned that the spot where I had been standing was the point of the most intense confrontation between the armies.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top, said something at a dedication at Gettysburg many years after the war that casts light on my experience:

In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.

Responses and comments on this 2003 entry are posted here and here.

- end of initial entry -

Andrew E. writes:

Every year on a Saturday in early December the National Park Service holds a Memorial Illumination in which volunteers come and set up 23,000 candles in rows across the battlefield with each candle symbolizing a casualty from September 17, 1862. At 6 p.m., after dusk, the park opens and visitors can drive through the park with the volunteers going first. The line typically stretches for miles. As a senior in high school, I participated as a volunteer as part of a special, elective history course I took. I’ve always remembered vividly the cold, cloudy and breezy Saturday I spent with my classmates laying candles in ground still soft and somewhat muddy from rain a few days before. I highly recommend it for those who can make it.

JC from Houston writes:

Thanks for noting that this is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg as we southerners called it). I visited the battlefield many years ago and it is impressive. I have a special connection with the battle as my great-grandfather defended a portion of the sunken road known as the “Bloody Lane” as a member of an Alabama regiment in Gen. Robert E. Rodes’s brigade. Luckily he survived the battle and several later ones and returned home after the war. His grandsons (including my father) all served in the U.S. Army in WWII.

LA replies:

I believe it was near the Bloody Lane where I was walking.

JC in Houston writes:

One of the Union formations that attacked the Bloody Lane was Thomas Meagher’s famous Irish Brigade, made up of several New York Irish and Irish American regiments. My great grandfather, who was 19 at the time of the battle was the first American born son of Irish-Catholic immigrants who came from Ireland in the mid 1830s and settled in south Alabama. I always thought it was ironic that he and his regiment basically were shooting at other Irishmen. It truly was a war of brother against brother and cousin against cousin. It’s often overlooked but there 40,000 Irish who served in the Confederate forces. On a different note, I have two faded letters he wrote home to his fiancee (my great grandmother) from the camp of the Army of Northern Virginia in 1863. With the demise of the written letter and its replacement by electronic communications, I fear that such priceless momentos of the past will not be available to future generations.

Robert B. writes:

Though I have not yet been to Antietam, I did spend three days at Gettysburg. The intense feelings, standing on such hallowed ground and knowing the lines of battle, brought tears to my eyes. I spent two nights on the battlefield. In the evening, as the sun set, a light fog descended over the fields. A powerful sense of human sacrifice—so strong that, to me, it was palpable and real, as if the battle were still in play. The portion of the field which brought tears to my eyes was the Confederate line where Pickett’s division had stood on its fateful day, so long ago. I could stand there and see the line of cannon and easily imagine the Union soldiers in front of them. This was what Pickett’s men marched into on that fateful day. I cannot but feel pride in, and admiration for, a nation that could produce men of such high caliber—on both sides.

And I wonder, just how those men, on both sides of that line, would feel about the land and ideals that they fought over—just how would they feel about it today? Just how would they understand what has happened to this once great land and its people?

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 17, 2012 11:27 AM | Send

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