350USAToday article: 9/17/01
- Oct 1, 2001From USAToday 9/17/01:
"WTC attack may eclipse Antietam 139 years ago today, battle was bloodiest
day in U.S. history"
ANTIETAM NATIONAL BATTLEFIELD, Md. -- Even on a brilliant, sunny day, the
question hangs over the cornfields and country lanes here like an ominous
Is this still the site of the single bloodiest day in U.S. history?
Exactly 139 years ago today, an epic battle took place here. By nightfall,
3,654 Union and Confederate soldiers lay dead or dying. Another 17,303 were
wounded, and it's estimated 2,500 of those died from their injuries; 1,717
were missing or captured.
Until Tuesday's attacks, it is feared, those were the most horrific totals
for one day of bloodshed on U.S. soil.
Those who come here say the causes that men fought over on Sept. 17, 1862 --
freedom, liberty, the right to self-determination -- are more important than
Tuesday's attacks "are not something that happened far away, so that we have
to debate whether or not there should be a response," Michael Eastman, 36,
of Clarksburg, Md., said Saturday. He was here with other Union re-enactors
from Company C, 2nd regiment, of the U.S. sharpshooters.
"There must be a (military) response because this is our country, this is
our soil," Eastman said, reflecting the opinion of many interviewed here and
of Americans polled over the weekend.
"We as Americans, each and every one of us, have to be ready to stand
shoulder to shoulder and defend freedom in its hour of need."
Tuesday's attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon
just outside Washington, and the crash of a hijacked jet in rural western
Pennsylvania, appeared to be on the minds of everyone who came here Saturday
to tour the battlefields.
Hundreds walked and drove through the historic sites. Many, like Eastman,
were here to take part in re-enactments of Civil War camp life and fighting
"We knew (the Antietam battle) was the bloodiest day" in U.S. history, said
Margaret Owenby, 55, a pediatric nurse from Arden, N.C. She and her husband,
Chester, stopped here on their way home from a vacation in Canada and Maine.
"But it didn't dawn on us that this was the anniversary."
The attacks last week and the history made here "are reminders that freedom
is not something that you pay for once," said Rick Sweeten, 42, a
self-employed contractor who came here with his son's Boy Scout Troop 44
from Mullica Hill, N.J. "As a nation we'll always be making sacrifices."
The lesson learned in 1862 and again last week is that "freedom doesn't come
cheap. There's a price attached, and you need to be willing to pay for it,"
said Julie Rowan-Wolford, a fifth-grade teacher from Points, W.Va.
The battle here effectively ended the first of Confederate Gen. Robert E.
Lee's attempts to push the war into Northern territory. It matched Lee's
40,000 Confederate troops against 87,000 Union soldiers under the command of
Gen. George B. McClellan.
The fighting "came in gray, with a pearly mist that shrouded the fields and
woodlands, and it came with a crash of musketry, backed by the deeper roar
of cannon fire that mounted in volume and intensity until it was continuous,
jarring the earth beneath the feet of the attackers and defenders,"
historian Shelby Foote wrote in The Civil War: A Narrative: Fort Sumter to
Union Gen. Joseph Hooker started the battle. His artillery mowed down
Confederate troops who were massed in a cornfield. "Every stalk," Hooker
reported later, "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
Confederate forces under Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson succeeded in
driving the Union troops back soon after. A day of attacks and
At sunset, the fighting ended. "Twilight came down," Foote wrote, "and the
landscape was dotted with burning haystacks, set afire by the bursting
shells. For a time the cries of wounded men of both armies came from these;
they had crawled up into the hay for shelter, but now, bled too weak to
crawl back out again, were roasted."
Pay honor and respect
As he lay on a large rock, dressed in the uniform of a Union private and
waiting between demonstrations by his group of re- enactors, Dave Gilles,
42, talked about why he decided it was important to be at Antietam this
weekend. "To honor those who have gone before us," said the father of three
from Myersville, Md., "and to pay respect to those who have yet to go."
Nearby, C.O. Williams, 33, sat with his back against a tree. He had similar
thoughts. The re-enactor from Thurmont, Md., said it's important for
Americans to be ready to sacrifice and to show they aren't going to be
scared by terrorists.
"I tell my wife that doing this is my sanity break," the registered nurse
said, especially after the "numbness" he felt this week.
Williams picked up the replica pennywhistle that he likes to play when he's
camping with other re-enactors. "I'll play the first song I ever learned,"
he said. "I think it's appropriate for this week."
The notes of Amazing Grace then rose into the air with the smoke of his
POSTED BY: Tom Shay
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