Numerous monuments and memorials populate the bucolic hills of Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg, MD, where legions of Union and Confederate soldiers were locked in a titanic clash that proved to be the bloodiest single day in US history. By evening of that September day in 1862, when the exhausted armies finally disengaged from the furious assaults, counter-attacks, and hand-to-hand fighting that characterized much of the action, nearly 25,000 of the 100,000 combatants had become casualties… one out of every four men killed, wounded, or missing. In some respects, we can but marvel that the toll wasn’t greater, as we read the Park’s interpretive displays of the deafeningly relentless exchanges of rifle-fire and how acres of once tall and ripening corn were mowed down to the ground by the minie balls and shrapnel as if the stalks had been scythed for harvest.
Reflecting on this brutal battle and the awful cost exacted from the dead and crippled soldiers, we are left to grab hold of the enduring good that was crafted out of something so terrible. First, Abraham Lincoln’s subsequent decision to move ahead with the Emancipation Proclamation represented a critical step in the unequivocal repudiation of the institution of human slavery. And, from a different perspective, Clara Barton’s compassionate and selfless assistance to the wounded men of both armies was an individual and personal act of mercy that led eventually to the founding of the American Red Cross by this “Angel of the Battlefield.” Both Lincoln and Barton’s actions have become enduringly humane and distinctly human legacies, both instrumental in defining what we stand for as a nation. It’s pretty humbling, really, and to visit a place like Antietam gives us pause for reflection. The value of preserving these historic places far exceeds whatever the cost might be and it is fundamental to our collective education, lest we forget such lessons and the historic cost of the many rights and privileges that we enjoy today. In this case, traces left behind by our ancestors are well worth remembering and preserving as we seek a common ground for building our future…
Hope to see you down the road,
Peggy and Barrett