Saturday, October 06, 2012

Antietam 1894: Vets at monument dedications

Better known for his work at Gettysburg, renowned battlefield photographer 
William Tipton took  this image of veterans and their families at the dedication
 of the 11th Connecticut monument at Antietam on Oct. 11, 1894.
 (Connecticut Historical Society collection)

In the weeks and months leading up to the dedication of four Connecticut monuments at Antietam in 1894, the Hartford Courant was peppered with stories about the event. From the report of the approval of designs for the monuments in January that year to the breakdown of the itinerary of the Connecticut veterans' dedication day visit to Sharpsburg, Md., in October, the newspaper made it clear that this was a very big deal.

"Antietam's soul-stirring memories will be brought vividly to life this week by members of the Eighth, Eleventh, Fourteenth and Sixteenth regiments, Connecticut Volunteers, who fought on that field September 17, 1862, the members of the last named regiment having first scented the powder of the enemy in that battle," the newspaper reported on Oct. 8, 1894, three days before dedication day.

Close-up of William Tipton's image shows a young girl with 
a large American flag draped over her right arm.
(Connecticut Historical Society Collection)
More than 100 veterans, most in their late 50s and early 60s, and their families made the journey to Antietam, first stopping at the hallowed fields of Gettysburg before heading on the short journey south via train to Sharpsburg. Because accommodations in the small farming community were scarce, most in the group of about 400 -- they were called "excursionists" in the Hartford Courant -- stayed with area families.

Before the main events of the day, many veterans toured the battlefield, finding bullets and "grim reminders of the past," according to an account of the trip. (1) Even though 32 years had past, emotions undoubtedly were still raw for men who survived that awful battle. Some had friends killed in the farm fields and woodlots outside Sharpsburg. Even the wife of 16th Connecticut captain Frederick Barber, who was mortally wounded in farmer John Otto's 40-acre cornfield, attended.

At the dedication of the monuments, music was played, prayers were offered and veterans gave lengthy speeches, each of which was dutifully published in the Hartford Courant the next day. Perhaps the most poignant moment came when Nathan Mayer, a brilliant assistant surgeon with the 11th Connecticut at Antietam, read a long poem at the dedication of the 16th Connecticut monument. Bringing some veterans to tears, the poem read, in part:

Against the picked men of the South
Against the batteries' belching mouth
Against the fire-lined gray stone wall --
A living line to stand or fall --
They met their fate this martyr band
For Union and their Native Land!

11th Connecticut monument today. It was moved to this location from
 John Otto's 40-acre cornfield  shortly after it was dedicated.

Also in the crowd that Thursday, a renowned 44-year-old photographer plied his craft, intent on capturing scenes for profit and perhaps for history. Best known for images of the Gettysburg battlefield, William H. Tipton shot several images, including this photograph of the 16th Connecticut monument. After the 11th Connecticut monument dedication at about 3 p.m., Tipton gathered some of the regiment's veterans and their families for a keepsake photograph. He recorded an image of 36 people, including veterans, several women wearing long dresses and one young girl with a large American flag draped across her right arm.

Perhaps the words of their monument dedication speaker, Samuel B. Horne, were still ringing in the veterans' ears.

"There were greater battles, with greater loss of life, but they were not fought out on one day as at Antietam, where the bloody work commenced at sunrise and by 4 o'clock in the afternoon it was over," he said. "You were there as active participants and willing spectators of that bloody scene.

"What a thrilling experience for mere boys!" (2)

(1) "Souvenir Of Excursion To Antietam And Dedication of Monuments of the 8th, 11th, 14th and 16th Regiments of Connecticut Volunteers," October 1894
(2) Ibid, Page 36

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