Sunday, March 13, 2016

Antietam: 125th Pennsylvania sergeant saved by wife's photo

SEPT. 17, 1904: 125th Pennsylvania veterans at dedication of the regiment's Antietam monument.
      THEN AND NOW: 125th Pennsylvania veterans at Dunker Church on Sept. 17, 1888

A post-war image of Edward Russ,
who suffered an abdomen
wound at Antietam.
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On Sept. 17, 1904, 42 years to the day after the 125th Pennsylvania suffered 54 killed or mortally wounded among 229 casualties at the Battle of Antietam, survivors of the regiment returned to the battlefield for the dedication of their monument on Confederate Avenue. Sixteen years earlier, many of these same men visited Antietam with their families and later posed for a photograph in front of the iconic Dunker Church, where many of the veterans fought and witnessed scenes that no men should have to see during a lifetime.

At least five veterans in attendance that late-summer day in 1904 suffered nightmarish experiences at Antietam -- the first battle of the Civil War for the 125th Pennsylvania.

After firing his gun, Private Francis Gearhard of Company D retreated from near the church and joined his comrades, who had re-formed in a line behind a battery. Gearhart found a better musket and picked up a leather case from a dead Confederate that held a knife, fork and spoon. Then "a wounded Reb asked me to help him to a shady place," the immigrant from Germany recalled, "but on getting him to his feet he was unable to walk, as part of his bowels were hanging out, and I was compelled to leave him."

A minister after the war, 
Elias Zeek was shot in the
right arm at Antietam.
Private Elias Zeek of Company C, who became a minister after the war and gave the benediction after the monument dedication, had part of the bone in his right arm shot away during the battle. He lay for two weeks in a battlefield barn hospital before being sent to a hospital in Harrisburg, Pa. Zeek was discharged from the army for good in November 1862.

A bullet ripped through the face and neck of Private Stephen Aiken of Company D, breaking his jaw bone and resulting in his discharge from the army in March 1863. After he was wounded and carried from the field by two comrades, Private Michael B. Brenneman of Company C spent 10 days in a battlefield hospital and another five weeks in a Pennsylvania hospital. "...It was two months," he wrote later, "before I got about on crutches."

But perhaps no veteran who attended the dedication of the 125th Pennsylvania monument that day suffered as harrowing an experience during the battle as Edward L. Russ.

Michael B. Breneman spent two months
on crutches after he was wounded
at Antietam.
A sergeant in Company D, Russ was wounded in the abdomen near the Dunker Church. As he lay in agony, the soldier from Blair County recalled, "a Confederate ran up, seemingly to bayonet and rob me, but, picking up an ambrotype picture, he asked, 'Is this yours?' I replied, 'Yes, that is my dear wife.' He at once placed it in my hand, gazed at me for a moment, and hastily rejoined his comrades among the storm of death-dealing missiles."

Russ, who had been mustered into the 125th Pennsylvania a little more than a month before Antietam, was rescued by six comrades, who risked their lives by carrying him from his exposed position. A surgeon thought Russ' wound was mortal, but he miraculously recovered at a hospital in nearby Hagerstown, Md., and survived the war. He died on Oct. 30, 1928, and was buried in Cypress Hills National Cemetery in Brooklyn, N.Y.


Altoona (Pa.) Mirror, Oct. 8, 1907

History of The 125th Pennsylvania Volunteers 1862-63, By The Regimental Committee, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1906

Sunset at 125th Pennsylvania monument on Confederate Avenue, near the Dunker Church.


  1. many wars have come and gone, many more dead and nightmares are real, GOD bless them all!

  2. I find studying the CIVIL WAR fascinating. Been to Antietam & Gettysburg many times.

  3. An act of mercy in the midst of battle...

  4. So sad, the tragedy of war.