Pentagon officials say problems at Antietam common even today

June 01, 1997


Staff Writer

SHARPSBURG - For average soldiers, the horror of battle hasn't changed much in 135 years. And neither have some of the command and communications problems plaguing their leaders.

At least that was the conclusion of about a dozen U.S. Army Signal Corps officers from the Pentagon who toured Antietam National Battlefield Saturday with a Penn State history professor.

The group of officers, which included majors, lieutenant colonels and two full colonels, were especially interested in learning about the strategies and leadership styles used during the battle.


It's the job of signal officers to connect commanders and the people who make the decisions with their staffs, Lt. Col. Mike Smith said.

Despite vast advances in military technology since the Civil War, the acts of bravery by individual soldiers and the leadership qualities needed to triumph in battle have remained very much the same, Smith observed after Professor Carol Reardon read a Union soldier's poignant account of the bloodiest day in American history.

And some of the confusion and bad decision-making that marked the Battle of Antietam can still happen today.

Soldiers can still get caught "stumbling blindly around the battlefield" and leaders must still "try not to make stupid decisions," Smith said.

"The weapons may change and some of the tactics may change but people are the same," Col. Larry Crockett said.

"The same fears, the same confusion, the same problems with command and control ... are the same in the Civil War as now because you're still dealing with people," Lt. Col. Don Grimm said.

But soldiers today share the "same thoughts - thinking of home and friends and loved ones" that their Civil War counterparts had, Crockett said.

Reardon, who is a former visiting professor of military history at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., said she has been taking officers on battlefield tours for four years for their professional development and to help them "remember the human dimension of warfare."

She had harsh words for Union Gen. George B. McClellan's leadership.

"Here's a man who doesn't have a clue, basically. He doesn't know what his troops are doing. He's out of touch. He might as well have been in Washington," Reardon said.

The officers did note some changes in battle over the years.

The number of casualties, some 23,000 men killed or wounded at Antietam, is far greater than we have experienced in more recent battles, noted Crockett, a veteran of the Persian Gulf War.

"We don't fight as close anymore. Here people are shooting each other at 10 feet to 100 yards. Nowdays we want to shoot people at a mile out, sometimes 25 miles out," Grimm said.

The officers said they preferred the modern Army to the military of 135 years ago.

"I think the pay is a little better today," Lt. Col. Gary Kollmann said.

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