Is it the Battle of Antietam or The Battle of Sharpsburg? They refer to the same terrible battle fought on September 17, 1862 and often referred to as the the bloodiest single-day battle in American history. How you refer to this battle may indicate your loyalties. Southerners refer to it as Sharpsburg, after the town near where it was fought. Northerners refer to it as the battle of Antietam after the creek that separated the armies at the center of the battlefield. Since the Yankee’s won the war, lots of history books refer to it that way too. (To the victor goes the spoils). With about 23,000 casualties between the two armies, there was no victor on this battlefield. Historians generally consider the battle a draw, although many arguments exist that McClellan lost his opportunity to wipe out the Confederate army and end the war. On the other hand, General Lee, with a smaller force, used gutsy tactics and aggressive action to save his army from annihilation. No matter what you call it, I’m glad that you are commemorating the 150th anniversary of this seminal battle and mourn the flower of youth that perished from both sides of the conflict.
Members of the 6th North Carolina state troops traveled to the reenactment battlefield near Boonesoro, Maryland from across eastern North Carolina and Virginia. The 350 mile journey took us a little more than 7 hours to drive. Crawling the last 50 miles or so through rush hour Washington traffic on the interstate reminded me of the resistance provided by Confederates troops blocking the mountain passes prior to the main battle. This must be how the Federal army felt…knowing they had someplace to be, but obsticles in your path are slowing you down. Finally clear of traffic, we hurried along the narrow, winding mountain roads for the final 20 miles or so. We watched the late summer sun sink behind the horizon, as our spirits also sank, knowing we had missed dinner with our comrades and would be forced to set up camp in the dark, never a fun experience.
We easily found the battle field thanks to “Penney”, Matt Holder’s British accented Garmin navigator, and quickly got registered. I am grateful to Matt for driving me and William to the event and back home, even after working all morning before we left.
We drove into camp to unload our minimal gear with our headlights supplementing the fading twilight and were directed to General Stepps HQ camp. Parking the truck close by we got out and stretched our cramped legs before plunging into the dark shadows under the forested glens to look for our camp. The first fire we approached was no one we recognized and they didn’t know where the 6th NCST was either. “Try over there” replied three or four lounging Confederates, their arms pointing in every direction of the compass.
Pushing through the underbrush we stumbled into a small clearing full of glistening white A-frames set up in orderly rows filling the space in every direction. So much for “campaign style” camping! There were more A-frames in any one of the rows than exist amongst the entire Carolina legion, so we knew this was not the right place. Walking along the rough logging road we soon saw our truck in the distance, having circumnavigated the woods but still not seeing anyone we knew. We had just about given up hope when we spied Colonel Roberts in the deepening shadows and he was kind enough to direct us to our nearby camp. We had nearly parked in front of it and had passed it by without noticing the naturally camouflaged entrance.
The camp was well hidden, close to the water buffaloes and latrines, nicely groomed by the labor of our earlier arriving comrades and fully populated with their dog tents and shebangs. Most of our company had gone to eat supper. A few souls had stayed behind and gave us a cheerful greeting and hearty welcome. There were not many spots available so we choose a large empty area in the center of camp. It was too late to do more than throw down our knapsacks. We would hang our fly tomorrow in the light. The weather forecast was favorable and the still air inside the sheltering woods was a little warm and humid, but a breath of air occasionally waved the leaves, promising a cooler respite during the night.
There was no Campfire so we ate an unplanned for cold supper by flickering lantern light. I had eaten a late lunch and made a supper out of the crackers I had brought for snacks. Just as I was laying out my wool blanket on top of my poncho, the rest of the company started filtering in and the next 30 minutes were spent greeting old comrades. Without a central campfire to draw us together, everyone drifted off either to an early sleep or to sit in the shadows in little knots visiting amongst themselves. The long ride to Maryland and the long walk back to camp from the parking lot was enough to wear me out and I soon found myself half listening to the comrades who were gathered around our lantern before dozing off to a sound sleep.
Coming Next- Saturdays Battle.