About Me

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I am a lifelong student of military history with particular interest in the Battle of Antietam. I work for the federal government in Washington DC and have two young adult children who I love very much. I currently volunteer at Antietam and devote much time to the study of this battle and the Maryland Campaign. I enjoy collecting notable contemporary quotations by and about the men of Antietam. Since 2013 I have been conducting in depth research on the regular artillery companies of the Union Army and their leaders. I hope to turn this into a book on this subject in the future. My perspective comes from a 28-year career in the U.S. Army. Travels took me to World War II battlefields in Europe and the Pacific where American valor ended the tyranny of Nazism and Empire. But our country faced its own greatest challenge 80 years earlier during the Civil War. And it was the critical late summer of 1862, when Robert E. Lee launched the Maryland Campaign. It is an incredible story of drama, carnage, bravery, and missed opportunities that culminated around the fields and woodlots of peaceful Sharpsburg MD. So join me as I make this journey South from the North Woods.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"They did not smell exactly like roast beef."

“That Sandwich Will Need No Pepper”, was the title of a recent blog post I did about Abner Doubleday. It must have been the most memorable of the quotes in the article because it got me a few good-natured laughs from ranger buddies Mannie Gentile, and John Hoptak when I volunteered at the park the following Sunday.

Thinking that perhaps I was on to something, and in the interest of further continuing this line of culinary related quotations, I offer this one made by John Gibbon (photo at left), commander of the Black Hat Brigade at Antietam.

One month before Antietam, on August 18, before Gibbon’s brigade had earned their famous sobriquets, his command camped on the Cedar Mountain battlefield. Gibbon’s tent was pitched near the position previously held by a Confederate artillery battery. Several dead artillery horses from the fight nine days earlier still littered the ground around his campsite. Gibbon wrote to his wife Fannie, that their first order of business “was to to go to work and burn them up.” This engendered the further wry comment that the burning, smoky putrefying carcasses “did not exactly smell like roast beef.”

Seriously dead horse flesh left after battles like Cedar Mountain and Antietam posed a serious health problem. The photo at the left, taken at Antietam after the battle, is from the collection of Alexander Gardner and appears in Antietam – The Photographic Legacy of America’s Bloodiest Day by William A. Frassanito. (Gettysburg: Thomas Publications, 1978), page 168. The only recourse was to burn the unfortunate creatures. Artillery horses were frequent and legitimate targets of infantrymen. If they could kill the horses, they could reduce the enemy artillery batteries ability to limber up and move away and make them easier to capture.

So how many artillery horses were at the Battle of Antietam? According to Curt Johnson and Richard C. Anderson Jr. in their book Artillery Hell the Employent of Artillery at Antietam (College Station Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 1995), a full strength battery of six guns required 146 horses (page 28). Confederate batteries often pulled their guns with four horses instead of six and many of their batteries had fewer than six guns. The authors list the Union as having a total of 66 batteries and 323 guns at the battle (page 39). The Confederates had 57 batteries and 246 guns (page 40). If we accounted for the fewer number of guns and horses in Confederate artillery units, lets use a conservative average of 100 horses per battery. With 123 batteries total that would put the artillery horse population on the battlefield conservatively at 12,300 animals. There must have been hundreds of dead horses to dispose of. Like Gibbon's (or should we say the enlisted men's) action at Cedar Mountain, the horses would have been burned.

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