Sunday, May 01, 2016

Then & Now: Bloody Lane at Antietam

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Alone Monday morning on the William Roulette Farm at Antietam, I marveled at the deep-blue sky and rich, green fields and tried to imagine again how this place became, as one long-ago soldier noted, a landscape turned red. I slowly re-traced the route Union soldiers took through Roulette's field toward a sunken road, where Rebels from North Carolina and Alabama awaited on a September morning in 1862. A Confederate commander in that lane, Colonel John Gordon, was awed by the spectacle, writing decades later:
Their gleaming bayonets flashed like burnished silver in the sunlight. With the precision of step and perfect alignment of a holiday parade, this magnificent array moved to the charge, every step keeping time to the tap of the deep-sounding drum. As we stood looking upon that brilliant pageant, I thought, if I did not say, "What a pity to spoil with bullets such a scene of martial beauty!"
It all turned quite ugly, of course. Yankees were mowed down by the score before they finally forced Confederates from the lane with fearful effect. Augustin Biggs, a Sharpsburg doctor, described the gruesome scene in a letter to his uncle days after the battle:
It was in this road the rebels had concealed themselves behind the banks and adjacent cornfield. It was at this place the slaughter on both sides was the heaviest. It was here that the Federals made a charge on the rebels and drove them back with terrible loss. In this road they laid in piles three and four deep. In the cornfield almost every step for several hundred yards around, dead rebels could be seen. The sight was awful.
Two days after the battle, on Sept. 19, 1862, Alexander Gardner famously made shocking images of the piles of corpses in Bloody Lane. To shoot the "Now" image above, I stood in about the same spot Gardner set up his cumbersome camera more than 153 years ago. Bordered by snake-rail fences and guarded by the beautiful 132nd Pennsylvania monument, the lane almost looked as pristine as a well-manicured lawn.

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

Union soldiers' view as they marched toward Bloody Lane, which is just beyond the fence rails.

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