Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Letter from Sharpsburg: 'Autumn sun kisses ... soldier-graves'

A cropped enlargement of Alexander Gardner's image of Union graves at Burnside Bridge.
(Library of Congress collection)
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More than a month after the Battle of Antietam, the detritus of war and scenes of devastation were not hard to find on the battlefield. On a beautiful fall afternoon, a correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer discovered broken muskets, knapsacks, pieces of shot and shell, remains of horses and trees riddled by bullets and artillery. At a small hotel where he stayed in the village of Sharpsburg, he found "nine hissing meteors thrown entirely through it."

"My bedroom has two loop-holes in the east wall, which ventilates it in the latest and most popular Sharpsburg style," the correspondent wrote on Oct. 25, 1862. "Thanks to Captain [Augustus] Martin’s Battery, or somebody else, for the correct ideas they had on the ventilation of modern dwellings. Your correspondent approves it, although it’s too late for a patent."

On Oct. 27, 1862, more than a month after Antietam,
 the Philadelphia Inquirer published this descriptive account
 of the battlefield.
Almost immediately after the battle, relic hunters picked over the fields and woodlots for souvenirs, but  the scavengers were "rather scarce" during the Philadelphia Inquirer correspondent's visit. Although citizens of Sharpsburg told him there were "nary a hoss or gun in town" from the battle, a Federal officer collected 443 muskets and  "sundry good mules and horses."

In an apple orchard near Burnside Bridge, the writer found a most poignant scene: makeshift graves for 17 soldiers, each marked with a pine board inscribed with the names or initials of the dead.

"The rabbit skips around them, the quail pipes his melancholy notes from the fence side, and the Autumn sun kisses those soldier-graves, day after day, and yet no kindred sheds a tear upon them," the correspondent eloquently wrote. "Alas! the poor soldier."

Published on Oct. 27, 1862, here's the writer's complete account, which includes a description of a visit of an "unsophisticated genius" with President Lincoln.


Special Correspondence of the Inquirer

SHARPSBURG, Md., Oct. 25, 1862.

On one of the most golden and beautiful afternoons of the present autumn I mounted saddle, at Frederick, and proceeded across the country to this sleepy village, classic and historical now as the battle-ground of Antietam. “Grim-visaged” war has left its mark of devastation along the entire route, from the first spurs of the Blue Mountains to the great field of carnage itself. Along the turnpike, at the intervening sections, the fences are all gone, the crops destroyed, bridges burned, vegetation trodden out, and almost every field is arabesque with dead horses, bullocks’ heads, broken wagons, and other debris of camp life. As both Federal and Confederate armies passed over this route, they left sad and indelible pictures upon that fertile and picturesque section of Maryland.

On descending the first range of hills a valley of magnificent proportions and beauty extends from North to South, dotted with yellow corn fields, green patches of winter grain, pleasant farm houses and sleepy barns.

  "The Mountain House" described in correspondent's account. It is still an inn today.

“To him who in the love of Nature holds Communion with her visible forms,” this valley would be a perpetual study and charm, and with its present autumn habiliments is, indeed, beautiful. South Mountain, properly the Catoctin, is where the Rebels gave us the first fight, a sketch of which your staff of correspondents graphically portrayed. But I must tell an incident which occurred when President Lincoln recently visited the scenes of that battle. In the Gap, at the “Mountain House,” an old farmer was turning an honest penny in selling apples and cider to the crowds of visitors to that locality. “Mr. President,” claimed the unsophisticated genius, “won’t you have a glass of cider?”

“No, sir, I thank you,” replied Mr. Lincoln.

“But it’s real good; prime Union cider!”

Cropped enlargement of image of President Lincoln shot by
Alexander Gardner near Antietam battlefield.
(Library of Congress collection)
“Is it? Why, my friend, then I will try it,” said the President, and which he did, with much wryness of face, vast fame to the farm, and great glee to Gen. [George] McClellan and Staff, who accompanied the President.

Yesterday morning I rode over the prominent points of the Antietam battlefield, including the Rebel centre and right, and the Stone bridge, where General Burnside met with such obstinate resistance and carnage. Evidences of that great fight are yet everywhere visible. Broken muskets, knapsacks, remnants of clothing, fragments of shot and shells, split and rifted trees, hard trodden ground, dead horses, and alas! long rows of graves and ditches, “where sleep the brave,” along the banks and on the high bluffs of the Antietam. In the orchard, back from the stream, I saw seventeen graves in a row, each with its little pine board, with names or initials, “Sept. 17,” etc, etc. How many tearful eyes, in far distant homes, have looked in imagination to those graves beneath the old apple trees! The rabbit skips around them, the quail pipes his melancholy notes from the fence side, and the Autumn sun kisses those soldier-graves, day after day, and yet no kindred sheds a tear upon them. Alas! the poor soldier.

The Confederate center of battle being on a prominent hill, immediately east, and in direct range of this village, our batteries threw immense numbers of shot and shell entirely over the enemy, into town, impartially and equitably distributing their favors to almost every house. Scarcely one escaped, while many had from one to a dozen shells thrown into a roof, garret, chamber, or cellar. The small hotel in which I am “tieing up” had nine hissing meteors thrown entirely through it. My bedroom has two loop-holes in the east wall, which ventilates it in the latest and most popular Sharpsburg style. Thanks to Captain [Augustus] Martin’s Battery, or somebody else, for the correct ideas they had on the ventilation of modern dwellings. Your correspondent approves it, although it’s too late for a patent. Our Sharpsburg hotels are much after your “first-class hotels,” particularly in charges per day. But here’s the difference; instead of “beef a’la mode,” we get mule fricassee, and instead of old Java, or Mocha coffee, we get unadulterated breakfast beverage from new crop acorns. Instead of famous Chester [Pa.] county butter, we get the most delectable Muscovado molasses for our bread and biscuit. Commend us to Sharpsburg luxuries “till the last syllable of recorded time.”

"Broken muskets, knapsacks, remnants of clothing, fragments of shot and shells, split and rifted 
trees, hard trodden ground, dead horses" littered the Antietam battlefield, the correspondent wrote.
This is a cropped enlargement of an Alexander Gardner Antietam image.
 (Library of Congress collection)
Relic hunters are getting rather scarce, although great numbers visit the battlefield every day; but the Government is monopolizing the business just now, and have Lieut. Samuel Waring, of York, Pa., gathering all the arms, horses, and other valuables belonging to Uncle Sam, but which in the fight, or rather after it, got mysteriously transferred into the hands of sundry citizens. Although the agents of the Government have visited this locality on similar business, Lieut. Waring collected, yesterday, four hundred and forty-three muskets, and sundry good horses and mules. Notwithstanding this important recovery, the citizens declared, previous to the search, that there were “nary a hoss or gun in town,” belonging to the best robbed and best lampooned Government on earth.

The impression prevails that an advance movement in Virginia will now be made. The men have marching orders, with three days’ cooked provisions, and are ready to “fall in.” Reports in camp say the Confederates are in force, back of Shepherdstown just opposite the fords here. `

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