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Walk from Sharpsburg to Shepherdstown commemorates wounded soldiers from Battle of Antietam

September 16, 2012|By CALEB CALHOUN | caleb.calhoun@herald-mail.com
  • Civil War re-enactors lead the Antietam Remembrance Walk between Sharpsburg and Shepherdstown, W.Va., along Md. 34 Sunday to commemorate the same route taken by wounded soldiers after the Battle of Antietam 150 years ago.
By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

SHARPSBURG — Ernest Fuss of Shepherdstown, W.Va., has mild arthritis in his hips and uses a cane, but that did not stop him from making the three-mile walk from Sharpsburg to Shepherdstown Sunday to commemorate the soldiers who died or were wounded in the Battle of Antietam.

“It’s important to remember how terrible war is,” said Fuss, 63. “People can’t imagine what it’s like.”

The walk was meant to honor those who fought in the battle, and the residents of both towns who assisted wounded and dying soldiers from it. The day after the battle,  thousands of wounded soldiers walked or were carried from the battlefield to Shepherdstown to be treated in houses, according to Sue Kennedy, a member of the Shepherdstown 250 committee who assisted in publicizing the event Sunday.

The walk Sunday took a similar route, starting from the Antietam Railroad Station, which is near the site of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s tent headquarters west of Sharpsburg, according to the walk’s website at http://antietamremembrance.org.

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Fuss brought up the difficulties the soldiers faced making the walk to minimize the arthritis he had to deal with making the same walk.

“It’s unbelievable what the soldiers had to go through,” he said. “A lot of people complain today, but we don’t realize how lucky we have it.”

Of the 23,000 wounded in the battle, about 10,000 went into Shepherdstown, according to an emailed release from Tom Riford, president and chief executive officer of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, one of the event’s sponsors.

The walk was a joint effort between the towns, according to Kennedy. Meredith Wait, chairwoman of Shepherdstown 250, came up with the idea.

Kennedy said it is important to remember that the walk after the battle, in addition to the battle, happened.

“You go over to Antietam (National Battlefield) itself, and it’s so beautiful, it’s heaven,” she said. “Then you think that right on that soil is a horrible moment in our history.”

About 300 people registered for the walk, and about 220 showed up, Wait said. Registration was free.

Marty Bowen, 61, of Shepherdstown, said she wanted to take part in the walk because a similar opportunity would not happen again.

“It was such a sad time in our country’s history that it seems pertinent to do the walk and walk in their footsteps,” she said. “It must have been horrible. Imagine having your leg shot off and having to get over here.”

Most of the soldiers making the walk were part of the Confederacy, according to Kennedy, because there were various field hospitals already in the area for the Union soldiers. However, people were treated in both towns regardless of which side they were on, Kennedy added.

Charles Town, W.Va., resident William DeRoche, 67, said people should remember on the walk the sacrifices that had to be made for their lifestyle today.

“We have quite honestly an easy life, and part of that is because people made sacrifices,” he said. “This is going to be a fairly easy walk for me, but I also imagine someone who’s wounded having to make this walk.”

Before the walk began, stories were told to the crowd about the battle, and a small skit was performed re-enacting Confederate soldiers calling for their people to walk to Shepherdstown for help. Interacting with the crowd, the actors led the walk.

They were scheduled to walk along Md. 34 over the Potomac River into Shepherdstown, go through Shepherd University and end at Shepherdstown Town Hall, according to the walk’s website.

Melinda Schmitt, 51, of Shepherdstown, said the walk represents an important time in the country’s history and the area’s history.

“It’s important to celebrate and commemorate those lives that were lost and who fought in this area,” she said. “We can only respect and commemorate what really happened. We’ll never really comprehend the devastation that went on in the area.”

Kennedy added that people who are not from the area or not “Civil War buffs” do not get the “gravity” of the battle.

“We’re talking 23,000 were wounded or died in one day,” she said. “When they made the walk into Shepherdstown, we didn’t have the bridge, the roads and the other methods.”

The Sharpsburg Heritage Festival was another sponsor of the event, which began at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

The walk took place after various presentations, including the skit.

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