Saturday, October 15, 2011

Antietam visit: 16th Connecticut's demise

16th Connecticut soldiers Henry Evans of Avon and Henry Aldrich of Bristol were killed at Antietam.
Antietam National Cemetery, on a hill near the edge of Sharpsburg, Md., remains one of the most beautiful, peaceful and sad places I have ever visited. On a crisp, fall afternoon, leaves dancing in the air, it sometimes is a magical place, too. The cemetery is the final resting place for thousands of soldiers, mostly those killed at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862. 
The 16th Connecticut monument at Antietam.

On Friday afternoon, I visited the graves of two 16th Connecticut soldiers killed at Antietam: Corporal Henry D. Evans of Avon (where I reside) and Private Henry Aldrich of Bristol. (My thanks to my friend Jim Buchanan of  the Walking the West Woods blog for adding the small American flags for the photo above.)

The 16th Connecticut paid a terrible price at Antietam, its first battle of the war. After the 16th was organized in Hartford in August 1862, these Connecticut men spent most of their time getting on and off steamships and learning the basics of military life.  Part of General Ambrose Burnside's extreme left flank at Antietam, the rookie regiment was unfathomably sent into John Otto's 40-acre cornfield in the later stages of the battle and was hit smack in the left flank by veterans of A.P. Hill's division. Out of 779 men, the 16th Connecticut lost 43 killed, 161 wounded and 204 captured or missing. Some of those killed never even fired a shot, and many of the survivors never got over the carnage at Antietam.

After the war, a soldier from the 16th described the terrible night after the battle as "the saddest we ever experienced."

"All was quiet and silent as the grave," Lieutenant Bernard Blakeslee of Hartford wrote. "The stacks of straw which the rebels had fired burned slow and dimly. The cries and groans of the wounded that lay on the battlefield could be heard distinctly, and the occasional report of artillery sounded solemn and death-like." (1)
View of the back of John Otto's farmhouse. Connecticut
troops moved across his property on the afternoon
of Sept. 17, 1862 after crossing Antietam Creek.

Blakeslee also described the treatment of the wounded:
All houses and barns were converted into hospitals, and yards and fields were strewn with straw and the wounded laid there without shelter. Surgeons worked hard day and night, taking rest only when unable to stand up from weariness. At one of these hospitals about 25 of the Sixteenth were placed. Nothing was to be heard but cries, groans, and entreaties. … In a room about 12×20 a bloody table stood and around it were five surgeons. A wounded man was laid on the table and it took but a few seconds for them to decide what to do, and but a few minutes to do it. The amputated limbs were thrown out of a window. In forty-eight hours there were as many as two cart loads of amputated legs, feet, arms, and hands in the pile. (2)
On Friday afternoon, I also walked the ground that the 16th Connecticut covered on the Otto farm with Buchanan and fellow blogger Jim Rosebrock of South From The North Woods blog. It's a wonder those Connecticut men, unused to forming for battle, even made it to Otto's 40-acre field. The undulating ground was probably tough for even veteran units to navigate. (See my video clip below.)
A small  stone marker at Antietam
National Cemetery denotes the final
resting place for three unknown soldiers.

Henry Evans' fellow townsmen -- privates Newton Evans, Wallace Woodford and Robert Hawley -- were wounded at Antietam. Hawley died eight days later. (Woodford and Newton Evans later became prisoners of war; Evans died in Andersonvile on Sept. 9, 1864, and Woodford died at home on Jan 10, 1865.) There is a marker for Henry Evans in West Avon Cemetery in Avon, perhaps put there so his family could mourn him more easily. The wife and mother of Aldrich, who served in Company K, applied for his pension after he was killed. It's unclear if the government paid up, but that merits further research.

Evans and Aldrich were among the lucky ones, I guess. At least their tombstones have names, perhaps a result of the diligence and compassion of a soldier such as 16th Connecticut First Lieutenant John Burnham. Burnham, from Hartford, helped identify and mark the gravesites of the dead of the 16th Connecticut in the days after the battle in the hope that their loved ones could retrieve their bodies. Many of the dead at Antietam National Cemetery are unknown, their final resting place marked by small square white markers with numbers denoting the number of bodies in a plot. It's a sad result of an awful Wednesday nearly 150 years ago.

(1) The History of the Sixteenth Connecticut, B.F. Blakeslee, 1875
(2) Ibid.

2 comments:

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  2. Thanks for your video and book. A lot of the men who enlisted from my home town went to the 16th. I believe your book mentioned one of them, Richard Brooks if memory serves me well.

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