Today is 150 years since “the day after.” It was a day with scenes that were a shocking experience to even the most hardened veterans. The great historian Joseph Harsh wrote of this morning, “A dull, gray dawn spread sullenly over the blasted, blood-drenched fields of Antietam. Smoke drifted from campfires and the cooling ashes of house and barns to thicken the leaden air of the somber morning.” (Taken at the Flood, p. 430)
Lee could do nothing but defend, and though McClellan had plans for the 18th to resume the attack by an attempt on Nicodemus Heights, a series of circumstances would delay the plans for 24 hours – by then, Lee had crossed the Potomac. Again, it is Harsh who summarizes the situation thus: “In a career filled with controversy, McClellan’s decision not to attack on September 18 would become one of his most fiercely criticized actions. It provides a curious counterpoint to the fact that Lee’s decision to remain on the 18th is one of but a handful of actions taken by the Confederate commander that even his veterans would second guess. In truth, both may have erred in the light of hindsight. But it is difficult to conclude that either can be seriously faulted for their decisions in light of what they knew at the time and of how each interpreted his responsibility as commander of the major army of his nation. Lee believed he was compelled to take unreasonable risks. McClellan believed he was prohibited from doing so. Each may have been correct.” (Taken at the Flood, p. 440)
Reflections on the Sesquicentennial at Antietam
As I have written here of the contending commanding generals, I noted from guests over this past weekend a heightened tendency to discuss and dispute their actions and non actions. A few folks standing around became even a bit contentious with one another (as the War goes on!). I am neither commending nor criticizing … am simply noting that the average person attending this past weekend was a bit more CW “hard-core” than the guests I’ve met over my six years of giving private tours.
I spent yesterday afternoon in the area of the Burnside Bridge – giving one talk in the shadows of the “witness tree” just after 1:00 – a very cool experience to be talking of events that happened under our feet 150 years ago to the minute! And I also gave two talks from the Confederate overlook of the Bridge.
An interesting feature of the day was to talk to a number of people who were making the pilgrimage to this spot because of ancestors who contended at this very location on the afternoon of September 17th. One man in particular said he would send me some descriptive letters of a great, great grandfather in the 35th Mass. I’ll hope to share some of that with my readers. Another man was especially interested to see where exactly his forebear from the 103rd NY had fought. And yet another intensely desired directions to walk out to the 16th CT monument to honor an ancestor.
I’ll close with this picture of a young woman who did a beautiful chalk sketch of the Bridge. From Crofton, MD, she is an art major at Anne Arundel Community College.