Today marks 150years since the Battle of Shepherdstown. Located on the Potomac River in (then) Virginia, it is approximately three miles from the Antietam Battlefield. Lee had led the Army of Northern Virginia on a retreat overnight from the 18th to the 19th. McClellan pursued, and a significant artillery duel began across the river – to be followed by infantry crossing later. The result would be a Confederate victory in making possible a successful retreat deeper into Virginia.
An excellent book detailing this battle is one of rather recent publication entitled “Shepherdstown: Last Clash of the Antietam Campaign” by Thomas McGrath. (There is a foreword by my fellow Antietam Battlefield Guide Thomas Clemens.) Particularly standing out in my memory of reading this account was the author’s inclusion of several Shepherdstown residences’ remembrances of September 17th. Not only could they hear the roar of cannon fire, they also all reported clearly discerning the rattle of musketry AND the voices of the combatants as they made attacks and counter-attacks!! I think that is amazing.
Shepherdstown was one giant hospital – already functioning as such from the nearby fighting in Harpers Ferry. Now in the wake of Antietam, every building in town was full of the wounded and dying. The largest of these was the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church – which stands to this day
Other history was being made on this date by the arrival in Sharpsburg of Alexander Gardner and James Gibson – photographers who had arrived from Washington to capture the aftermath of battle. Over four days they photographed images that, when put on display some weeks later, completely shocked the northern population by bringing home to them the reality of war. When sharing this information and these photos with guests, I use this analogy: I ask if they have been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington. Most people have been there, but even those who have not visited are able to relate to the following words. After 2-3 hours of viewing displays of those atrocities, one leaves mentally wiped out and emotionally exhausted from the experience. Though the Antietam pictures are rather innocuous by modern standards, the visceral experience of those who lined up for blocks in NYC to see “The Dead at Antietam” caused them to exit the display with a similar emotional reaction.