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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 teenagers who I love very much. I currently volunteer at the battlefield 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. These words often add a degree of color and character not found elsewhere in their stories. A feature of this blog is the presentation of some of these quotes. 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 that fortune could have gone either way. 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.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The most sanguinary part of the whole field

From the Cornfield east of Miller's house looking northeast (1/19/13)

During the short winter days of January, I have been getting ready for the upcoming year at Antietam.  One book I am spending a lot of time with is Volume 2 of Ezra Carmen’s Maryland Campaign.  The outstanding editing by Tom Clemens adds a great deal of clarity to Carmen’s manuscript.  Every footnote is worth reading.

As anyone familiar with Carmen knows, he copies much of his prose from Official Record reports, magazine articles, and letters from participants of the battle.  But there are stretches where you see the landscape and battle from his eyes and in his words. 

Early in volume two, Carmen spends much of chapter 12 (The Field of Antietam) describing the terrain around the northern part of the battlefield.  While some of his syntax is aggravating,, pronoun use can mystify, and the sentences often run on making for a difficult read, (maybe like this one), Carmen nevertheless delivers some very evocative description of the roads, terrain, crops, and structures on the battlefield.  Here is a sample:

“North of the cornfield was a grass field of nearly 40 acres of higher ground than the cornfield and upon which the Union batteries were posted on the 17th. In that part of this field, bordering the Hagerstown Road, stands the house of D.R. Miller, an apple orchard, north and east of it, a garden in front, and in the southwest corner of the garden, close by the road, a spring of delicious water, covered by a stone house.  Beyond the field where are Miller’s house and orchard, was another field, bounded on the north by the North Woods. South of the cornfield and bounded by the Hagerstown road on the west and by the East Woods and the Smoketown road on the east and south was a field of nearly 80 acres, most of it in luxuriant clover, some of it freshly plowed. In the East Woods and West Woods and the cornfield and grass field between them, is where the terrible struggle between the Union right and the Confederate left took place-the most sanguinary part of the whole field.”[1]

Sometimes there is a tendency to jump over the early chapters of Carmen to get to the meat of the action.  Don’t do that.  It is worth it to read the entire work thoroughly.  For someone like me who has been to this field many times, the careful reading of Chapter 11 painted yet another picture and perspective that I had not seen before.  I read this chapter last week.  Today I was on the field and the imagery of Carmen’s words came back to me as I viewed this ground today.  Pictures are worth a thousand words but sometimes a thousand words, carefully and perceptively read can produce an image that stays with us in an even more powerful way.


[1] Carmen, Ezra. The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 Volume II: Antietam, edited and annotated by Thomas G. Clemens. El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, 2012, page 11.

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