Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Travels and Battles (first part)

Peter, Francis, Michael and I visited Antietam battlefield a couple of weeks ago. The North named their battles after nature's geography, such as Antietam Creek; the South, after man's geography or towns, such as Sharpsburg. But neither name sufficiently catches the devastation that occurred exactly 150 years ago. There were more American casualties in a 12 hour period on September 12, 1862 than any time in history, before or since. (Nine times the American casualties on D-Day.)

Casualties, we were constantly reminded, means dead, wounded, or missing and captured. Treatment of those captured at that time was considerably different than it is now. During the early years of the war, they followed the European tradition. A captured soldier was given parole, i.e. the prisoner was allowed to leave after he promised not to continue fighting. He was honor bound to keep his word. Later, prisoners would be exchanged so they could return to combat. The North later realized this exchange of prisoners was prolonging the war so they stopped. Both sides set up prisoner of war camps.

The worst fighting at Antietam occurred in the Cornfield, where General Joseph Hooker, who was injured there, recalled that all the stalks were cut down by rifle fire "as closely as could have been done by a knife…. It was never my fortune to witness a more bloody, dismal battlefield."

We recalled that Gettysburg had equally bloody fighting in an area called the Wheatfield. We concluded that if we were ever in the army, we would be much better off to stay out of farmers' fields.

1 comment:

Big Myk said...

I've only seen the battlefield from water level.