On the evening of September 16, 1862, the night before the bloodiest day of American history, thousands of young soldiers tried to sleep in the light rain, clutching their muskets in the dark as no fires were allowed. Whether battle-hardened veteran or young recruits in brand new uniforms, all knew that a big fight was coming. Thomas Galway of the 8th Ohio wrote “Everything becomes quiet for the quiet that proceeds a great battle has something of the terrible in it….”
The battle of Antietam made a profound mark in the course of the Civil War and American history. Not only did it set back the momentum of the Confederate drive for independence and ended Robert E. Lee’s Maryland Campaign, but it presented President Abraham Lincoln with the long-awaited Union victory that he could use as a political platform to announce the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which not only dramatically changed the mission of the North to end slavery, but eventually resulted in the addition of 180,000 African American soldiers to the Union cause. The photographic evidence gathered by Alexander Gardner for his boss, Matthew Brady, of the aftermath of this terrible battle showed the naïve American public what the true horrors of warfare really looked like. As the New York Times editor reported, “…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 door yards and along the streets, he has done something very like it…”
I grew up in a rural community in a family living in Maryland for generations with ancestors that fought on both sides. Growing up and visiting the nearby battlefields of Gettysburg and Antietam, I was impressed with references to the Civil War that surrounded me. In the early ‘90’s, I volunteered as president of Historic Ellicott City, Inc. and oversaw the management of the B&O Railroad Station Museum. With that influence to learn more about American history, I started concentration on the Civil War and then focusing on the Battle of Antietam exclusively for five years before becoming a Guide. Serving as a Battlefield Guide, it would be my pleasure to share with you what I’ve learned about this sacred ground that played such a significant role in who we are today as Americans.