SHARPSBURG — A fitting way to cap off this past weekend’s events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, a remembrance ceremony Monday paid tribute to the thousands of men who died as a result of America’s bloodiest day.
More than 100 people attended the event, which featured the reading of about 3,400 names of soldiers killed at Antietam or who died later from their wounds, according to National Park Service Ranger Alann Schmidt.
“We thought it would be something nice, something special; a little more meaningful for our 150th anniversary,” he said.
Attendees of the ceremony at Antietam National Cemetery were invited to take turns reading the names of soldiers, including many buried on the grounds there, and those at the three designated Confederate cemeteries in Maryland and West Virginia. Schmidt said the National Park Service also welcomed public submissions for more names to be added to the list since the identities of only about half of the men who died are known.
In just 12 hours of fighting on Sept. 17, 1862, nearly 3,700 soldiers were killed and almost 23,000 from the two armies became casualties, the most ever for a single-day battle on American soil.
Moments before the name-reading portion of the program, a long line quickly formed for those who wanted to take a turn reading anywhere from a few to more than a dozen names in alphabetical order by state, starting with Alabama.
Bob Snipes of Shepherdstown, W.Va., got to read the name of one of his ancestors, John T. Snipes, a Confederate soldier from Macon County, Ala., who was wounded at Antietam.
Active in a family history group, Snipes said he uncovered his connection to the relative — a first cousin, four times removed — about two years ago. Through his research, Snipes found that his ancestor actually died Oct. 15, 1862, in a field hospital near Sharpsburg.
“This is great because I wanted to have some way of honoring him,” Snipes said.
A soldier with the 15th Alabama Infantry, John T. Snipes is buried at Washington Confederate Cemetery inside Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagerstown, Snipes said.
“It’s a real honor to be part of this and to acknowledge him, and everybody else,” he said.
Two others who took part in the name-reading segment, C.H. Rosenberg and Philip Brown, both of Gettysburg, Pa., said they are living historians who took part in events over the weekend at Antietam.
With a passion for history both academically and professionally, Rosenberg, 21, called the experience “energizing” and “absolutely inspirational.”
Brown, 22, said he had 29 relatives from South Carolina who fought for the Confederacy at Antietam, but none of them died. Still, it’s important to get in touch with that history and remember the events that unfolded there, he said.
“There’s just something about getting in to the grounds and getting to see the resource that we have here that can’t be picked up in a book,” Brown said.
The remembrance also included the placement of a memorial wreath at the base of the Private Soldier Monument, which overlooks the national cemetery graves and bears the inscription: “Not for themselves, but for their country.” A rifle salute and the playing of taps concluded the four-hour afternoon ceremony.
Before the reading of names, opening remarks were delivered by Edwin C. Bearss, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who was severely wounded by Japanese machine-gun fire while fighting overseas during World War II in 1944.
“As a vet of World War II, this is one of the most humble moments of my life,” said Bearss, also an author and former National Park Service historian.
In a gruff yet thoughtful voice, Bearss said he was grateful for the opportunity to speak and to remember the men who died fighting for what they believed in at Antietam.
“Many of them are known to but God alone,” he said, referring to the thousands of unidentified soldiers.
Bearss said Antietam National Cemetery is home to the remains of soldiers from battles throughout our nation’s history, from the Civil War to the current war on terrorism.
Those men — many of them not even 20 years old when they died — never got the chance to know what their true fate would have been, he said.
Bearss also took a few moments to remember the four men from his platoon in World War II who died Jan. 2, 1944, during the ambush that left him clinging to life with gunshot wounds.
Concluding his address, Bearss said it was “arguably the most memorable day and the most memorable audience” that he has ever addressed because it gave him “an opportunity to remember my comrades who cannot speak.”
“Whether they were comrades from the Civil War, we have to remember all servicemen ... are comrades in arms,” he said. “And I can see myself as a comrade by extension of the names we’re going to call today.”