|Before last Saturday's 25th annual illumination at Antietam, John Rogers and I checked|
out the O.T. Reilly monument just west of the battlefield Visitors Center.
|Longtime Antietam battlefield guide O.T. Reilly.|
(Photo courtesy of Stephen Recker)
As it turns out, Rogers and I simply didn't know where to look. Hidden in plain site in front of a private residence, just off the Old Hagerstown Pike and 75 yards from the Visitors Center, is an obscure monument to battlefield guide O.T. Reilly. Artillery shells, perhaps relics from the bloodiest day in American history, are embedded in its base. Rogers and I have passed the small monument hundreds of times, never stopping to check it out until Saturday, before the start of the 25th annual Antietam battlefield illumination.
Born in nearby Keedysville, Md., Reilly, who claimed he witnessed the battle when he was 5, became a battlefield guide when he was 15. In 1890, he moved to Sharpsburg, where he opened a store on Main Street and sold novelties and groceries as well as battlefield guide books (35 cents), postcards (20 cents per dozen) and Civil War relics. He also offered tours of Antietam for a $1.50 for a 10-mile excursion. Reilly served as a battlefield guide for seven decades, often taking veterans on tours of the field and eventually drawing the ire of the National Park Service after it took over management of the park from the War Department in 1933. (The NPS required "official" guides to take an examination; Reilly wanted no part of that.)
According to this account by Reilly expert Stephen Recker ("Rare Images of Antietam"), his calling card read: "Get O.T. Reilly, the best guide, nearly 65 years experience … has been over the battlefield with many high ranked officers of both armies [Gens. Hooker, Burnside, Franklin, and Longstreet included] and thousands of men who fought in the battles." Reilly had the monument placed at the site in 1927 in tribute to veterans and the nearby Dunker Church, which blew down in a wind storm in 1921. The inscription on it reads:
“TO THE MEMORY OF THE/ OLD DUNKARD CHURCH/ THE OAK TREE THAT STOOD/ IN FRONT AND THE UNION/ CIVIL WAR VETERANS OF/ SHARPSBURG, MARYLAND/ ERECTED BY O.T. REILLY/ THE HALF-CENTURY ANTIETAM/ BATTLEFIELD GUIDE 1927.”
Reilly, whose pithy Antietam stories were published in the local newspaper for decades, died in 1944. He was 87. (For more on Reilly's original Antietam battlefield guide book, visit Recker's Virtual Antitetam blog.)
|This large artillery shell is solidly embedded in the base of the monument.|
|The fuse still remains in this artillery shell.|
|A Schenkl shell embedded in the base of the monument.|