Saturday, April 30, 2016

Then & Now: Union burial crew on Miller Farm at Antietam

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Once the Battle of Antietam was over on Sept. 17, 1862, the Union army faced the enormous task of burying the dead. Understandably, they focused mostly on their own dead before turning to those of the enemy, which crossed the Potomac River into Virginia on the night of September 18.

The task was onerous.

"The Rebs pretended to bury their dead," 124th Pennsylvania Sergeant Charles Broomhall  noted in his diary on September 19, "but they buried so some said 500. There were a great many left unburied and where they were exposed to the sun they were as black as darkies."

A bucket on the unusual 90th Pennsylvania monument on
Cornfield Avenue at Antietam. The monument is a
replacement for the original that was dismantled
 in 1930.  Read more about the monument here.
Wrote George Noyes, a member of Union General Abner Doubleday's staff:
Can it be that these are the bodies of our late antagonists? Their faces are so absolutely black that I said to myself at first, this must have been a negro regiment. Their eyes are protruding from the sockets; their heads, hands, and limbs are swollen to twice their natural size. Ah! there is little left to awaken our sympathy, for all those vestiges of our common humanity which touch the sympathetic chord are now quite blotted out.
To produce the image above, Alexander Gardner persuaded a five-man Union burial crew to halt interring Rebel dead on David R. Miller's farm for perhaps as long as 15-20 minutes, certainly no small task given the bodies had lain on the field for two days. Some burial crews resorted to drinking copious amounts of alcohol because the smell of the bodies was so terrible. This Gardner image, of course, was first expertly dissected by William Frassanito in his ground-breaking 1978 book, Antietam: The  Photographic Legacy of America's Bloodiest Day.

I've passed the Gardner photo site just off Cornfield Avenue scores of times over the years, rarely stopping long enough to ponder it. On a Then & Now photography mission during my Civil War Power Tour this week, I aimed to duplicate Gardner's 1862 image with a tool Alexander would have loved: my iPhone 6. At the far right rock outcropping, approximately where the burial crew member stood in 1862, I also examined the unusual 90th Pennsylvania monument, a re-creation of the original stack of muskets that was dismantled in 1930. Three simple words on the monument bucket aptly describe the fighting on the Miller Farm:

A Hot Place.

For all the Then & Now images on my blog, go here.


124th Pennsylvania Sergeant Charles Broomhall diary, Brian Downey's Antietam on the Web, accessed April 30, 2016.

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