Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Remembering another tragic September day

Confederate dead at Antietam in a photograph taken by famed Civil War
photographer Alexander Gardner. (Library of Congress collection)

On the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks last weekend, Americans honored the memory of 2,977 people killed in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pa. The anniversary of  another tragic September day likely will pass Saturday with little notice.

On Sept. 17, 1862, nearly 3,700 soldiers -- Yankees and Rebels -- died in the farm fields and woodlots surrounding Sharpsburg, Md. Many more wounded in the awful battle of Antietam died in Sharpsburg-area houses, barns or fields in the days and weeks following the battle. Antietam remains the bloodiest day in American history, a dubious record if there ever was one.
George Bronson, a hospital steward
in the 11th Connecticut, witnessed
the carnage at Antietam.

New England -- and Connecticut, in particular -- suffered greatly at Antietam. Funerals for Civil War soldiers were commonplace in the small towns of the Connecticut River Valley in late September and early October 1862. Over the past several months, I have posted stories of soldiers who served and died at Antietam.

  • Justus Wellington, a private in the 15th Massaschusetts from West Brookfield, Mass., was killed in the West Woods. A shoemaker before the war, Justus sent his army money back home to help support his family, which was not well off. Wellington's grave site is unknown. He was just 24 years old.

  • Joseph Mansfield, a 58-year-old Union general from Middletown, Conn, was mortally wounded in the East Woods, three days after he was given command of the XII Corps. It was his first field command of the war.

  • Corporal Henry Evans, one of 15 men from Avon, Conn. to serve in the 16th Connecticut, probably was  killed in John Otto's 40-acre cornfield. Antietam was the first battle of the war for the young men of the 16th Connecticut. There's a marker for Evans in the West Avon Cemetery, about two miles from my house, but he's actually buried in the beautiful national cemetery, gravesite No. 1,084, on a hill at the edge of  Sharpsburg.

  • George Bronson, a 34-year-old newlywed from Berlin, Conn., survived the battle but undoubtedly never forgot what he saw there for the rest of his life. A hospital steward in the 11th Connecticut, Bronson treated the wounded after the battle at a farmhouse near the Burnside Bridge.

  • "337 wounded dressed in this hospital," Bronson wrote his wife, Mary Anne, on Sept. 19, 1862. "3 of the men from our Reg. had their legs amputated. The last I do not think can long survive."

  • And late this afternoon I visited the grave of  George Booth in West Cemetery in Litchfield, Conn., about a 25-minute drive from my house. Booth, a  Litchfield resident, enlisted as a corporal in the Union army on Sept. 6, 1861 in Hartford, and was mustered into Company E of the 8th Connecticut 19 days later. Less than a year later, he was dead, probably killed in action after the 8th Connecticut crossed Antietam Creek near Burnside Bridge.

  • The casualty toll at Antietam -- there were also about 17,000 wounded -- shocked people in the North and South. Take a moment Saturday to remember the sacrifices that George, Justus, Henry, Joseph and thousands of others made 149 years ago.

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