Ceremony marks 147th anniversary of Battle of Antietam

September 11, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Every year, Lt. Col. Louis A. Mercado's students at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Va., make two trips to study Civil War battlefields.

One of them is to Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg, the site of the single bloodiest one-day battle in the war between the states on Sept. 17, 1862.

"Quite frankly, while some of the tactics -- surely the technology -- has changed, the lessons have not changed, and some of those lessons are pretty enduring," Mercado told about a dozen people gathered for the 147th commemoration ceremony of the battle in the auditorium at the battlefield's Visitor Center.

Mercado's remarks were followed by those of award-winning author Elizabeth Brown Pryor, who presented an examination of Robert E. Lee at Antietam. Pryor signed copies of her book, "Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters," afterward.


"One element of the war that doesn't change is the human element," said Mercado, chief instructor at the Expeditionary Warfare School at the university. "Walking the actual ground and conducting a thorough analysis, the human factors, the principle rules of war, are all the things that we study and analyze when we come out here."

"I've spent a lot time wandering these beautiful hills and it has never failed to move me," Pryor told a crowd of more than 50 people who turned out to hear her presentation.

"And to speak on this particular day, Sept. 11, which is another day that we view with great sorrow in our nation's history, makes this especially poignant for me," said Pryor, who also wrote "Clara Barton: Professional Angel." Barton tended to wounded soldiers at Antietam and went on to found the American Red Cross.

An opportunity to examine letters from the Lee family while working for the National Park Service in Arlington, Va., inspired Pryor to write the book about the famed Confederate general, she said.

"I found him to be far more complex than the simple Christian gentleman that he has sometimes been portrayed as," Pryor said. "As it turns out, he was more vulnerable, wittier, more questioning and confused and altogether more human than we have generally thought."

In opening remarks for the commemoration ceremony, Antietam National Battlefield Superintendent John W. Howard said the remains of an unknown Union soldier found by a park visitor in October 2008 will begin a final trip home to New York next week.

The soldier will be buried with full military honors Thursday at Saratoga (N.Y.) National Cemetery, Howard said.

"At long last, this warrior will be home," Howard said. "This is why places like this are important -- to remind us of this brave soldier and others like him who gave their last great measure of devotion to their nation, just as they do today."

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