Friday, September 27, 2013

Antietam panoramas: 'For God's sake a drink of water!'

                                                         JOHN OTTO'S CORNFIELD:
                              Rebels attacked the 16th Connecticut here on Sept. 17, 1862.
                                       (Click on image for full-screen interactive panorama.)

After the major fighting stopped late in the afternoon of Sept. 17, 1862, the misery was only beginning for 16th Connecticut wounded who lay in John Otto's cornfield, no-man's land between the Rebel and Yankee armies at Antietam. Collapsing with gunshot wounds just 15 feet from the body of Company I captain John Drake, Private Bela Burr of Farmington, Conn., was unable to leave the field. His brother, Francis, who served with Bela in Company G, was severely wounded in the groin. Wounded six times, 18-year-old Private James Brooks, the son of a farmer from Stafford, Conn., stunningly clinged to life. Private John Loveland, a 23-year-old barber from Hartford, drifted in and out of consciousness as he lay wounded among the cornstalks. His fractured femur protruded two or three inches from his left leg.

16th Connecticut Private Bela Burr suffered two leg wounds in
John Otto's cornfield at the Battle of Antietam. (Connecticut State Library)
Hearing cries of Union wounded that night, one Rebel soldier apparently risked being shot by an enemy picket and crept into no-man's land with a canteen of water to quench Bela Burr's thirst. (2) For others who lay in Otto's field, there was little hope.
" awful stillness settled over the battlefield, broken only by the distant booming of artillery and the groans of the wounded around us," a 16th Connecticut soldier who had lain in Otto's field noted in The National Tribune decades after the war. "Once or twice some poor fellow, faint from loss of blood or consumed by raging thirst, would cry out piteously, 'Water! Water! For God's sake a drink of water!

"I shall never forget the long hours of that terrible night!" he continued. "The pain I was suffering, the home-sickness, the utter desolation of the situation! It seemed as if morning would never come." (1)

When morning arrived, help was nowhere to be found. Neither the Rebels nor Yankees had budged from the battlefield, but the armies weren't willing to begin another full-scale fight. As the temperature soared to 79 degrees on Sept. 18, the plight of the wounded was exacerbated.

"The sun rose higher and higher," the unnamed 16th Connecticut soldier noted, "pouring down such fierce heat we seemed in a furnace, for the standing corn shut off every breath of air. Our canteens were empty and our sufferings from thirst were terrible."

On the night of Sept. 18, the Confederate army retreated across the Potomac River into Virginia, abandoning the field to the Union army and its burial crews, who scoured the field the next morning. “Many (wounded) had crept out of the storm of battle and hidden under fences, or among rocks, or in thickets, and their strength failing, they could neither come forth or make known their situation," according to the 16th Connecticut regimental history. "Some of the badly wounded did not have any attention for several days.”

Late on the morning of Sept. 19, the Burr brothers, Loveland and Brooks were found alive and taken to field hospitals. Loveland and Brooks were eventually transferred to the German Reformed Church hospital in Sharpsburg. Brooks' 19th birthday passed there on Oct. 3, but he couldn't overcome his many wounds. He died at the little church on Main Street on Oct. 11. Loveland, who had his leg amputated, also died there in October when an artery in his leg disintegrated, spewing a gusher of blood. Francis Burr was eventually transferred to Crystal Spring Hospital near Keedysville, Md., but he died there on Dec. 11, 1862.

Bela Burr recovered in three hospitals and was discharged from the Union army in November 1863.

He died in a Hartford insane asylum in 1908.

Today, many who tramp John Otto's field, part of Antietam National Battlefield, have no knowledge of the pain and anguish Burr and his comrades endured there more than 151 years ago.

(1) The National Tribune, Oct. 1, 1888
(2) Banks, John, Connecticut Yankees at Antietam, Charleston, S.C.: History Press, 2013

                                                         JOHN OTTO'S CORNFIELD:
                    Some wounded 16th Connecticut soldiers lay in this field for 40 hours.
                                     (Click on image for full-screen interactive panorama.)

1 comment:

  1. another nice read, John. thanks for sharing. And my birthday is Sept. 17 so this one meant a little more.