On our way home to Minnesota, we spent a couple of days with our friends in Hagersburg, Maryland. They were kind enough to take us to Gettysburg, Pennyslvania to view the historic battlefield, and the monuments and museum that have been erected there. The countryside is beautiful; quiet and peaceful farms nestle among the trees on the hills. At first glance it does not look like the greatest battlefield of the Civil War, but as you listen to the tour guides tell the history of this place, part of which looks much the same as it did in 1863, the stories come alive. You can imagine the troups coming out of the woods, climbing over the split rail fences, and marching across the cornfields. You can imagine the sound of the cannon booming through the once quiet pastures. You can even imagine the smoke of the guns so thick that you couldn't tell the North from the South. But in no way can one imagine the stench that must have hung over the valley as the tens of thousands of troups lay wounded and dying in the hot July sun after the bloodiest three day battle in the history of the United States where 51,000 were killed, wounded or missing. Within a few months of the battle, 17 acres of the battlefield became Getteysburg National Cemetery, and was dedicated on November 19, 1863, with a two hour oration by a Mr. Edward Everett, and a 2 minute, 272 word speech by President Abraham Lincoln. The Gettysburg Address, as it became known, is considered a masterpiece of the English language, as it gave meaning to the sacrifice of the dead, and inspiration to the living. This place will stick in my memory forever.
The next day Carole and Glenn took us to Antietam (or Sharpsburg) where the bloodiest day of the Civil War took place on September 17, 1862. Over a small area of only 12 square miles, 40,000 Southerners were pitted against the 87,000 man Federal Army. The battle began at dawn and by evening it was over and Lee began withdrawing his army across the Potomac River. The course of the Civil War had been greatly altered. More men were killed or wounded at Antietam than on any other single day of the war. Federal losses were 12,410 and Confederate losses were 10,700. Union General Joseph Hooker reported: "In the time I am writing, every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in their ranks a few moments before."
A piece of history that I didn't know before this visit is that Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, treated the wounded at Antietam during and after the battle.
These two historic battlefields were very interesting to visit, and even 150 years after the guns were silenced, are filled with emotion. Often father fought against son, and brother against brother. It must have been horrible. It's hard to even think about it. And it must never happen again.