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Military historian speaks at Antietam anniversary event

September 14, 2007|By DAN DEARTH

In a speech Friday at Antietam National Battlefield, military historian and Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jeremy M. deVries said the 23,110 casualties that the battle produced might have been worth the cost to help preserve America's freedom.

DeVries originally was scheduled to speak outside the Dunker Church, where heavy fighting occurred Sept. 17, 1862, during the Civil War, but rain moved the event inside to the theater at the Visitor Center.

DeVries' speech was part of this weekend's scheduled events to mark the battle's 145th anniversary.

"What would our country have been like had Abraham Lincoln thought 23,000 casualties were too much?" said deVries, a veteran of the War on Terror. "We knew then what we know now ... Freedom isn't free."

DeVries said in an interview after his speech that Americans shouldn't put a limit on casualties in the war on terror.

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"As long as there's men and women willing to sacrifice, there is no limit," he said.

As a prelude to deVries' speech, Ted Alexander, chief historian at Antietam National Battlefield, talked to an audience of about 35 people about the wide variety of soldiers who fought at Antietam.

Alexander said there is a common misperception that the Civil War was fought largely among soldiers of Anglo-Saxon descent.

Actually, the Union and Confederate armies comprised a melting pot of ethnicities and nationalities, Alexander said.

The men who fought at Antietam not only were American Christians, but Jews and immigrants from Greece, Ireland, Germany, Italy and several other countries, he said.

A Confederate survivor of Antietam wrote that as he laid wounded on the battlefield, he heard the prayers of the dying in almost every language, Alexander said.

"Whatever the ethnic background of these people, their citizenship was not confirmed in a naturalization ceremony, but rather by their sacrifice and the shedding of their blood here on the field around Sharpsburg, Maryland, and on other Civil War battlefields," he said. "They're Americans all."

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