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On 150th anniversary of battle, those who fell at Antietam are remembered

September 17, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Abena Agyeman and fellow Saint James School students listen Monday to remarks about the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. The Battle of Antietam was fought Sept. 17, 1862. A commemoration event was held Monday at Antietam National Battlefield.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

SHARPSBURG — The men who lost their lives in a horrific battle 150 years ago to the day Monday were honored and their families were remembered by speakers, including a two-star general and a Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War historian, who talked about the sacrifice the men and their families made.

“(We are) with hearts full and lumps in our throats as we consider what happened here 150 years ago,” the Rev. John Schildt said during his invocation at Monday’s ceremony commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. “We can almost hear the thunder of artillery and the whiz of the bullets, and the screams” of the wounded and dying, Schildt said.

The ceremony was held on the grounds of Antietam National Battlefield, across the road from Dunker Church, where more than 500 people sat in folding chairs and another roughly 500 stood or sat on the surrounding hills as local and national speakers talked about the battle’s participants, their families and the remaining battlefield.

“We often get caught up in the numbers and statistics of the battle,” Antietam National Battlefield Superintendent Susan Trail said.

Approximately 23,110 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing due to the Sept. 17, 1862, battle near Antietam Creek.

Each of those soldiers “was a human being who left behind family and friends, and had their own dreams, aspirations and fears,” Trail said.

Among those in the audience was Brooks Lyles, 54, of Leavenworth, Kan.

Lyles’ ancestor, Confederate Capt. John E. Penn, commanded the 42nd Virginia in the West Woods and was wounded within the first three hours of the battle, Lyles said.

Penn was captured, had a leg amputated and was a prisoner of war at Fort McHenry in Baltimore before becoming part of a prisoner exchange with the North, Lyles said. Penn went on to become a Virginia state senator who introduced a bill that founded what is now Virginia Tech, Lyles said.

He said the weekend’s festivities were a “real tribute to the soldiers and the sacrifices they all made.”

After the ceremony, Lyles got in line to meet Army Maj. Gen. Mark S. Bowman, one of the speakers at the ceremony.

A retired lieutenant colonel who is a veteran of the battle of Mogadishu, Somalia, Lyles said he wanted to thank Bowman and compliment him on his speech.

Bowman serves as the director of Command, Control, Communications and Computers for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon.

Bowman told the crowd that nearly one in four of the soldiers who engaged in battle at Antietam became a casualty.

There was “American patriotism on both sides of the battle line,” he said.

“What is remembered most is the sacrifice of others,” Bowman said. That sacrifice was “a loss borne by loved ones left behind,” he said.

In addition to people waiting to meet Bowman after the ceremony, several people were in line to meet James M. McPherson and to get his autograph. McPherson is a renowned Civil War historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era.”

Despite the terrible events of Sept. 11, 2001, the Battle of Antietam remains the bloodiest day in all of American history, McPherson said.

More than 6,000 soldiers were killed or mortally wounded at the Battle of Antietam, Trail said. That doesn’t account for soldiers who died of illness or disease, she said.

Describing the horrors of the battle, McPherson told the story of a soldier who was stumbling around with both eyes shot out, begging for someone to put him out of his misery. A lieutenant did just that, shooting him in the head with a revolver, just before the lieutenant’s own head was struck by a “solid shot,” McPherson said.

The horrors of the battle were brought home when Civil War photographers Alexander Gardner and James Gibson arrived within two days of the battle and photographed pictures of bloated corpses still lying on the battlefield, McPherson said.

Stephanie Toothman, the park service’s associate director for cultural resources, talked about land that has been preserved at Antietam and other battlefields, and the goal to preserve more land.

Today, more than 3,200 acres of Antietam’s battlefield are preserved with more than 60 percent of that land becoming preserved in the last 25 years, Toothman said. Several groups have helped preserve the land, she said.

Speaking of Civil War battlefields such as Antietam, Toothman said their “educational value is astounding.”

“They tell the American story in experiences no textbook can equal,” she said.

“The Battle of Antietam is directly linked to the Civil Rights Movement,” Toothman said.

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