Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Antietam panorama: 'At once everything became dark'

                                     8TH CONNECTICUT MONUMENT AT ANTIETAM:
                        The regiment's dead and wounded lay in this field after the battle.
                                  (Click on image for full-screen interactive panorama.)

The sun shined brightly in the faces of 8th Connecticut soldiers, Leonidas A. Barber recalled, obscuring Rebels who fired from behind stone walls and fences during a furious struggle late in the afternoon at the Battle of Antietam. Far in advance of the rest of the IX Corps, the 8th Connecticut was largely on its own as it aimed to cut off the Confederates' nearby escape route to Virginia. Suddenly, Barber, a 22-year-old corporal in Company G from Stonington, Conn., was knocked senseless and crashed to the ground with a head wound, perhaps caused by a shell burst. "...all at once everything became dark, and I seemed to be whirling through the air with lightning speed," he wrote to his brother nearly two months after the battle. "Being somewhat uncertain as my latitude, I felt about, and was much gratified to find myself still on terra firma, and not making a flying trip through the regions of space."

Leonidas Barber ("head, dangerously") was
 listed among  the  many 8th Connecticut Antietam
 casualties published  in the Hartford Courant 
on Sept. 26, 1862. 
The Rebels eventually gained the upper hand, forcing a retreat by the 8th Connecticut, which left most of its wounded and dead behind. Suffering from a gunshot wound to his leg, 8th Connecticut Private William Pratt, also of Company G, became a prisoner of war when he was carried off to Sharpsburg by a comrade and a kindly Johnny Reb. Shot through the head and probably killed instantly, Private Oliver Case of Company A lay on the field, perhaps near the bodies of George Booth and nine other members of the regiment's color guard.  Private Peter Mann of Company B, a 54-year-old weaver from Enfield, Conn., who shaved 10 years off his age when he enlisted, suffered a wound to his groin. (He would die 10 days later in a field hospital near Sharpsburg.)

Stuck behind enemy lines and unable to speak because of his wound, Barber was treated kindly by some Rebels. "....one spread my blanket over me, and fixed a rude pillow for my head," he wrote. But others -- "rascals," Barber called them -- searched the helpless soldier's pockets for money and other valuables. "As to the one who wanted to take my shoes," the corporal wrote, "I can forgive him, as I suppose the poor devil needed them bad enough for I saw a number of them the next day without any." (According to 8th Connecticut Lieutenant Roger Ford, many of the regiment's dead were found stripped of their clothes by the Rebels when the Yankees took control of the field two days later.)

Roger Ford: 
8th Connecticut
lieutenant saw bodies of

 comrades stripped of 
their clothes by the
Rebels after the battle.

 (Courtesy: Matt Reardon)
Unlike Pratt, his Company G comrade, Barber was left on the field that night. He somehow made his way the next day to a nearby barn, where Union wounded were "in the care of the secesh," he wrote. Paroled by the enemy, which retreated to nearby Shepherdstown, Va., on the night of Sept. 18, 1862, Barber was finally rescued by comrades the next morning. Barely recognizable, he had an awful head wound and his hair, beard and clothes were caked with blood and dirt. Later that Friday afternoon, Barber had his wound dressed at a hospital before he devoured a meal of hardtack, bread and soup.

"This was what you may call hard living," he wrote his brother, "especially when one’s jaws and throat are so he can neither chew nor swallow anything hard. Had it not been for the kindness of one of my company, who was a nurse of the hospital, I think the doctors would have done what the secesh could not -- that is, deprive the country of a soldier, and yourself a brother."

Ten months later, Barber was transferred to the Veterans Reserve Corps, comprised of infirm or partially disabled soldiers who performed light duty. Nearly two years after Antietam, on Sept. 20, 1864, he was discharged from the Union army. Barber died in 1867 in Leavenworth, Ill.

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