Just outside the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, there is a beautiful tract of land. Rolling fields cascade down a series of inclines from The Cornfield at the northwest, and from the Dunkers Church at the west, toward the Antietam Creek that runs north to south on the east side of 4-5 square miles of farmland. In the middle of the site, running perpendicular to the creek, lies a picturesque sunken farm road.
September 17, 1862, Robert E. Lee’s 55,000 man army and George McClellan’s 75,000 man force met here for what became known as the Battle of Antietam. In a few short hours this idyllic, bucolic valley turned into a nightmarish, horrific charnel house. Antietam was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with casualties approaching 23,000.
Rebekah and I listened to lectures, we walked various trails, and we drove to every key marker on the battlefield, We heard some amazing stories, and we learned a lot about the troop movements, the generals, the decisions, the motivations, the engagements, and the unprecedented brutality of the fighting.
But what stuck with us the most was the sense of absurdity, and the futility when both sides completed the day’s heinous business by withdrawing to the exact positions they held when the sun had first come up in the morning. Absolutely nothing had changed… other, that is, than the visitation of horror upon horror, inhuman acts of brutality and terror, torturous pain, and overwhelming carnage.
So Rebekah and I really had no choice but to visit the National Cemetery, there at the end of the day, as our final experience at Antietam. We had to bow our heads in reverence and a kind of grief; and we couldn’t help but stand in disbelief, considering all we had seen, and wonder if we will ever learn anything from such atrocities?
And today, sketching out these few thoughts, I have to wonder why it is that we still try to cover the horrors of war with romance, and with stories of camaraderie, and with political justifications? when all I could possibly say about any of it is that it is completely wrong….
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.– Isaiah 2
“Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.“
Here are some wonderful photographs from Antietam – DEREK