Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Dunker Church, circa 1900: Where are West Woods?

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In this early-20th century view of the iconic Dunker Church on the Antietam battlefield, the 34th New York monument, dedicated on Sept. 17, 1902, appears at right. A monument to the 125th Pennsylvania joined it in September 1904. Obscured by trees, the small building seen behind the church is long gone.

But where are the infamous West Woods?

By early in the 20th century, the West Woods, scene of savage fighting on the morning of Sept. 17, 1862, were largely cut down. Beginning in the mid-'90s, trees there were replanted as part of a landscape restoration plan by the National Park Service. The revealing photo above appears in A Brief History of the Thirty-fourth regiment, N.Y.S.V, published in 1903.

If I could go back in time, I wouldn't mind walking these fields, maybe kick at the ground when no one was looking to see what war relics I could uncover. I'd also walk past the 34th New York monument to see the ground where the 15th Massachusetts fought. Construction of the Rt. 65 bypass would come decades later, so the slope of the terrain toward the old Alfred Poffenberger farm would look just as it did during the battle.

Below is a video of a gum-chomping me -- the nuns in Catholic school would not approve -- walking through those replanted West Woods last September. (Whoops, the NPS misspelled General John Sedgwick's last name on the interpretive sign!)

34th New York monument in the West Woods. In the background, the 125th Pennsylvania monument.

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  1. John Banks, I love to read your columns! You are so well informed, and the pictures and sometimes rare subjects are wonderful. Commentaries such as yours are sadly missing from the Civil War groups. Keep up with your wonderful work!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, JB