Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Calm Before the Storm

Picture yourself just outside Sharpsburg, Maryland, near Antietam Creek on the morning of September 16, 1862. It is almost like the Christmas carol says: 'All is calm, all is bright.'

Farmer Miller's corn is ready for harvesting.

The Dunker Church sits silent.

The early morning sun shines on the Mumma Farm...

...and the Roulette Farm.

Cattle graze in the fields.

The sunken road was just a shortcut for farmers to get to town.

The lower bridge over Antietam Creek was quiet. Life is as it should be.

Twenty-four hours later, on September 17, 1862, 120,000 Union soldiers and 45,000 Confederate soldiers will turn the landscape red. Not a stalk of corn will be left standing in Miller's cornfield. In three hours of savage fighting some 8,000 Americans would lay dead or dying within 700 yards of the center of that field.

The Dunker Church would be turned into a field hospital as shot and shell rained outside. The Mumma farmhouse would be burnt to the ground. Horses and cows not killed by falling artillery would be requisitioned by both sides.

Thousands upon thousands would die in the sunken road that we now know as Bloody Lane. And down at the lower bridge, an understrength Georgia brigade, firing from the bluffs above, held off wave after wave of Union soldiers under the command of General Burnside. Finally, the Georgians were overwhelmed and Burnside's men crossed the bridge that now bears his name and climbed the heights above. Victory was in their grasp and the rooftops of Sharpsburg were in sight when Confederate general A.P. Hill, leading his famed Light Division, arrived on the field and slammed into Burnside's advance. Another blood bath ensued and mercifully brought to a close the bloodiest day in American history.

By the time the sun set that day some 26,000 American soldiers fell. Yes, whether they wore blue or gray, they were Americans. In just 14 hours, 26,000 fell. That's more than the population of my hometown. 26,000 in 14 hours, that's one man falling every 2 seconds for those 14 hours.

Today, the battlefield is quiet, guarded and watched over by the silent sentinels that remain.


June said...

Had a few minutes so thought I'd check in from glad I did. I enjoyed this post so much! Your pictures are fantastic as is your narrative...and both go so well together. I stopped at the Petersburg National Battlefield on my way over to Norfolk...I had similar thoughts as I looked out on the tranquil setting. Oh, and by the your new banner.

Shannon said...

The pictures are amazing. We forget in these modern times that there have been tragedies in America of a scale that makes 9-11 pale in comparison. 26,000 I can't even comprehend that number. Frightening.