Students get history lesson on Antietam Battlefield

April 28, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

SHARPSBURG - Camouflaged military medical students marched around Antietam National Battlefield on Wednesday, learning some history along the way.

Some 165 first-year Uniformed Services University students took buses from Bethesda, Md., to the battlefield in the morning. Four companies walked a six-mile course in full gear, wearing helmets, boots and backpacks.

They stopped at key points, listening to lectures from university faculty members dressed in period costume. The doctors portrayed characters like Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Clara Barton and spoke about major aspects of the Civil War.

Commander Brad Bennett, vice chairman of the university's military and emergency medicine department, stood near the doorway of Dunker Church as the first group approached.


"This here's the battle of Sharpsburg. The Yanks call it the battle of Antietam," he said with a drawl. He called himself medical director of Gen. Stonewall Jackson's brigade.

He discussed the battle, describing conditions that made nearly every building a hospital. His gray coat and pants contrasted with the green and brown clothes of those around him.

"What is this uniform?" he said. He rapped on a student's helmet. "Is this something you might wash with?"

After a march around the north woods, the students came upon three men standing on a stone barrier along The Cornfield Avenue. Capt. Dennis Vidmar introduced himself as Lewis Boyer of the Fifth Texas Infantry.

He described the morning of the battle - the exchange of artillery, "the Federals" marching out of the woods with their bayonets glinting in the light. "The carnage was terrible. We were cut to ribbons," he said.

In the aftermath, bodies were stacked like cordwood, he said. The lucky ones could crawl to a hospital, but others had to wait two or three days for a wagon.

"Even if the docs can get to you, what can they do? Chop off an arm or a leg, but if you got a belly wound, you're a goner," he said. "There's got to be a better way to help the ones who need it."

The point of the lectures was to teach the students about the military's medical history.

"Everything we have in military medicine today was learned the hard way," said Vidmar.

Out of the battle of Antietam came the Red Cross, the use of ambulances and organized casualty evacuation, Vidmar said.

"Most of the things period soldiers suffered we'll experience again," said Lt. Col. Gordon Flint. Military doctors still deal with rough field conditions and long hours.

The Uniformed Services University is the nation's only accredited federal school of medicine and graduate school of nursing. The school each year sends students to the Antietam Road March.

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