(WBUR) Antietam: A Savage Day In American History

On this morning 150 years ago, Union and Confederate troops clashed at the crossroads town of Sharpsburg, Md. The Battle of Antietam remains the bloodiest single day in American history.

The battle left 23,000 men killed or wounded in the fields, woods and dirt roads, and it changed the course of the Civil War.

It is called simply the Cornfield, and it was here, in the first light of dawn that Union troops ”” more than 1,000 ”” crept toward the Confederate lines. The stalks were at head level and shielded their movements….

Read or listen to it all.


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8 comments on “(WBUR) Antietam: A Savage Day In American History

  1. Br. Michael says:

    I am following the War Between the State on a daily basis. But today I tried to follow the battle as it developed.

    I toured the battlefield in 2007. It is peaceful, green and pleasant. Much of it is still farmland and under active cultivation. The Dunker Church has been rebuilt. The Bloody Lane, which had Confederate corpses piled three deep, is covered with grass. It is hard to imagine the horror and carnage of 150 years ago. Veterans said that you could walk form one end of the corn field to the other stepping from one dead body to the next and never touch the ground.

    We are now in the middle of 1862 and there are many Sharpsburgs to come. McClellan will soon be out and Burnside will replace him. He will attempt to redeem the Union at a place called Fredricksburg in December. In the meantime Gen. Bragg is invading Kentucky and will meet Don Carlos Buell at Perryville, Ky.

  2. Ad Orientem says:

    I too am following the war closely. The NY Times is running near daily articles on the war. And yes there will be more bloody battles ahead, though none will surpass Sharpsburg for its sheer carnage and unadulterated slaughter. Indeed no single day of battle in our country’s history, before or since, has equaled Sharpsburg in casualties.

    This battle was one of the most consequential in our history. Had it been lost, it would probably have been the end of the Union. The South would have gained recognition from Britain and France and the entire history of the world would have been changed. Instead the imperfect victory gave Lincoln the political cover he needed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

    I am deeply reluctant to suggest divine intervention in the organized mass murder that is war. But in this case it seems at least plausible.

  3. MichaelA says:

    Great summary, Ad Orientam.

  4. magnolia says:

    i disagree no. 2. imo lincoln was directly responsible for the carnage of so many and for what? only doing what the revolutionaries had done before them.
    slavery would have ended eventually, ’twas inevietable, and with a lot less bloodshed. we probably would have come back together peaceably, over commerce most likely.
    it’s better for people to come to it voluntarily then having it forced upon them; all the strife that happened in the years afterward and still today proves it. if you had a guest come to your house and then start lecturing and demanding that you do everything differently, you might not welcome those demands and start to resent to requestor.

    we may be less divided now but only marginally so. forcing people to stay against their will is not the mark of a peacemaker, it’s a hallmark of a tyrant. anyway, it’s just my opine. i’m no great fan of lincoln. i was riveted by this piece when i woke up to it the othe morning.

  5. High_Church says:

    I’ve lived most of my life within 5 miles of Sharpsburg. I was married by the Episcopal priest at St. Paul’s parish in Sharpsburg, one of the few orthodox clergy in the county, before he moved on to Christ Church, Cooperstown in the Diocese of Albany. This weekend I attended the reenactment, which was done with historic and reverent intentionality. Afterwards, I attended an evening pray service using the 1789 Prayer Book (i.e. the one in use during the Civil War) at another local parish. The liturgy the hymnody was power, but as usual the preaching was awful. The readings included Isaiah 35 (i.e. gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away) and 1 Corinthians 15 (i.e. O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?). With such promise and the potential to offer poor sinners a perspective on war and death, the goodness of God’s grace, and the hope of eternal life, I instead received unanswered questions about why there are wars and a poorly written poem. How can you be so powerfully handed the Gospel of Jesus Christ by the text and yet completely disregard it? How can you have the words of eternal life and no offer them? The dribble that poured out of the rector’s month could be found in ten thousands dying corners of this world, but the Gospel is found only in the church. Why give what can be found anywhere, in place of that which only you possess?

  6. Ad Orientem says:

    Re #4
    I cannot agree. Arguing that anyone has the right to nullify an election by refusing obedience to the lawful government is just code for anarchy. The comparison to the War of 1775-1783 doesn’t hold water because we had no representation in the British government unlike the South in 1860 which simply through a tantrum when they lost the election.

    Setting that aside I am not at all comfortable with the justifications for the Revolution in any case. Basically it was fought because people were complaining about their taxes being too high when in fact they were lower, by far, than those paid by our fellow countrymen back in Britain. We won, so it’s a moot point. But no, it wasn’t a moral or just war.

    As for the suggestion that everything would have come out fine if we had just let the South go, again I think that’s a dubious proposition. First it would have established firmly that we were not a country but rather what Lincoln scornfully referred to as a “free love association.” So anyone could leave anytime they didn’t like the outcome of an election or policy that they disagreed with. That’s idiocy and as I already noted just code for anarchism. No nation can survive on that basis.

    As for slavery, I have heard the argument advanced by Southern sympathizers that it would have died of its own accord. And in time I think that is possibly though far from certain. But the men who lead the South into rebellion most definitely did not think so. They made it very clear in their writings, both public and private, that they saw themselves as fighting in defense of a societal order that was ordained by nature and God. I refer you to the declarations issued by many of the states citing the justifications for their treason as also the Cornerstone Address of Alexander Stephens, the Vice-President of the rebellion in which it is repeatedly and firmly stated that the protection and extension of slavery is the principal on which they were building their new republic. These were men who dreamed of building a slave holding empire in collaboration with The Empire of Brazil throughout the Caribbean and Central America. They wanted to annex Cuba and Mexico and reintroduce slavery in those new territories.

    Economic reality might eventually have forced later generations to emancipate their slaves, or maybe not. But if it did happen how many generations would have passed held in chains? What kind of society would a modern Confederacy be? I think one can look at how South Africa developed under apartheid for an idea as well as the institution of Jim Crow laws in the post war South that were only overthrown by the interference and demands of the rest of the country which you disdain.

    On one point you are correct. The war was unnecessary. But the fault lies squarely and exclusively with the South. To argue otherwise is to embrace a form of neo-Confederate historical revisionism that is utterly devoid of any foundation in fact.

  7. magnolia says:

    no. 6 i have been reading more and more about this war and you and i will have to disagree. in particulars yes the wars were different but in the abstract imo, they were similar. i happen to agree that the revolution wasn’t moral or just either, but what is good for the goose is equal for the gander.

    it may be dubious to you but just as ‘bear’ bryant brought about integrated football, the same would have been done in all aspects eventually; imo, there is a big dif between evolving on your own terms vs. having it forced on you by people you don’t know or like.

    we were a conflation of states who voluntarily entered into agreement before the war; if that were not the case then there would not have been separate states; it would have all been one, whether it should have been is another argument. lincoln was the first to employ blatant gov’t overreach. as it has been pointed out time and time again, many southerners who fought didn’t own slaves but they sure were willing to fight outsiders who wanted to dictate how they ran their own states.

    it is argued that slavery was the cause of war; however from what i’ve read it is not the only reason that the war came about, it appears to be much more complex. the south was basically financing the north through high tariffs (ie 1828 and after being lowered in 1857 was on the republican dominated platform to be raised again in 1860)and yet northerners never offered to help pay to free the slaves; paying wages to slaves would have bankrupted many planters. emancipation was used by the north as a tactic to injure the south but i haven’t read that it was a moral crusade. two financial ideologies were diametrically opposed. your comments represent to me the contemporary belief that this was some kind of holy war fought on moral grounds.

    at any rate, just as i believe TEC shouldn’t be forcing people to depart the churches they built and paid for or at least negotiating with them, nor do i believe that the north’s aggression against the south was a just cause.

    again, different in particulars similar in the abstract. however, i am sure that nothing i’ve written will sway your opinion but i hope that you won’t disrespect me by accusing me of trying to ‘rewrite’ history-it is all opinion after all since neither of us were there at the time.

  8. Ad Orientem says:

    I am content to let one of the leading men in the rebellion answer for me.

    [blockquote]…The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

    Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

    In the conflict thus far, success has been on our side, complete throughout the length and breadth of the Confederate States. It is upon this, as I have stated, our social fabric is firmly planted; and I cannot permit myself to doubt the ultimate success of a full recognition of this principle throughout the civilized and enlightened world.

    As I have stated, the truth of this principle may be slow in development, as all truths are and ever have been, in the various branches of science. It was so with the principles announced by Galileo it was so with Adam Smith and his principles of political economy. It was so with Harvey, and his theory of the circulation of the blood. It is stated that not a single one of the medical profession, living at the time of the announcement of the truths made by him, admitted them. Now, they are universally acknowledged. May we not, therefore, look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgment of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances, or to question them. For His own purposes, He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made “one star to differ from another star in glory.” The great objects of humanity are best attained when there is conformity to His laws and decrees, in the formation of governments as well as in all things else. Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws. This stone which was rejected by the first builders “is become the chief of the corner” the real “corner-stone” in our new edifice. I have been asked, what of the future? It has been apprehended by some that we would have arrayed against us the civilized world. I care not who or how many they may be against us, when we stand upon the eternal principles of truth, if we are true to ourselves and the principles for which we contend, we are obliged to, and must triumph. [/blockquote]

    -Alexander H. Stephens
    Vice-President of the Confederate States of America
    March 21, 1861
    Savannah, Georgia