I have been fascinated by the Civil War ever since I was a little boy, when I listened to my grandmother talk about her grandparents’ experience amid the chaos of the Civil War in southwest Virginia. I graduated from the University of Virginia with a B.A. in History in 2009. I’ve studied the Civil War for a long time, but after I started visiting Antietam several years ago, I learned that you cannot really understand a battle until you walk the ground where it happened. I volunteer at Antietam as a Battlefield Ambassador, and I’m also a member of the Battlefield’s artillery-living history unit, which commemorates Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery.
For me, Antietam National Battlefield is one of Maryland’s, and our country’s, greatest treasures. I believe Antietam is the best-preserved battlefield in the United States. But the terrain is only half the story. The men who fought, and bled, and died there, are the other half. I believe the most interesting stories at Antietam are not about generals in gold-braid, but about the average soldier or junior officer, who did their duty, suffered the hell of battle, and weren’t mentioned in the history books, but were the heart-and-soul of an army, and the heart-and-soul of this battle.
The night before the Battle of Antietam, one Union general said: “tomorrow we fight the battle that will decide the fate of the Republic.” He was right. Antietam did indeed put our nation on a new course. President Abraham Lincoln used Antietam to issue the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation was the beginning of the “new birth of freedom” Lincoln spoke about later at Gettysburg. Lincoln was only able to set that course because of what happened at Antietam. It is my goal to show you what happened, using the terrain, and the words of the soldiers, nurses, and civilians who were there.
If you come with me on a tour of Antietam, I will tell you about the 50,000 artillery shells that were fired in just 12 hours. I will tell you about men in blue and gray fighting up-close with bayonets in one corner of the Cornfield. I’ll tell you about a 15-year old boy volunteering to man a cannon along the Hagerstown Turnpike, and winning the Medal of Honor. I’ll tell you about a Union general bravely riding through enemy fire in the West Woods to lead his men to safety, and a Union soldier seeing his friend get shot down beside him at the Sunken Road, while every blade of grass seemed to have a bullet passing through it. I’ll tell you about civilians whose homes were looted by the armies, and about a family whose home was destroyed during the battle. We’ll talk about Confederate artillery shells raining down on Union soldiers after they captured the Sunken Road. Then we’ll talk about Union soldiers running down a “shooting gallery” of a road along Antietam Creek to get to the Burnside Bridge, running past Confederates firing at them just 50-150 feet away. We’ll talk about a soldier from New York who lost a leg trying to capture Sharpsburg, and about New Englanders and South Carolinians fighting at close range in a cornfield south of the town, just before the end of the battle. Then I’ll show you Antietam National Cemetery, where the men I feel I work for, rest in peace.
It would be my pleasure to take you on a tour of Antietam National Battlefield. With some advance notice, I can also customize the tour to your particular area of interest. You can reach me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.