Scenes Along the Sunken Road (Bloody Lane)
Over a number of blog posts, I want to share with readers a series of descriptions of the scenes surrounding the Sharpsburg area in the days and weeks after the Battle of Antietam. Most of these will be through the eyes and pen of George F. Noyes – a lawyer from Maine who was a part of Abner Doubleday’s staff – and who wrote incredibly descriptive and moving prose in his 1863 book The Bivouac and the Battlefield.
This fifth post in this series continues the written account of Noyes’ early ride around the battlefield. His words will be in italics; my additional comments within <brackets like this>. He wrote:
One more scene in this battle-picture must be seen, and with a visit to this our ride may end. It is a narrow country lane, hollowed out somewhat between the fields, partially shaded, and now literally crowded with rebel corpses. Here they stood in line of battle, and here, in the length of five hundred feet, I counted more than two hundred of their dead. In every attitude conceivable-some piled in groups of five or six; some grasping their muskets as if in the act of discharging them; some, evidently officers, killed while encouraging their men; some lying in the position of calm repose, all black and swollen, and ghastly with wounds, this battalion of the dead filled the lane with horror. As we rode beside it – we could not ride in it – I saw the field all about me black with corpses,
and they told me that the cornfield beyond was equally crowded. <This description would indicate that he was riding on the Union side – the north side of the lane – for the cornfield along the sunken road was on the south side of the lane, and surely would have indeed contained more Confederate dead.> It was a place to see once, to glance at, and then to ride hurriedly away, for, strong-hearted as was my then mood, I had gazed upon as much horror as I was able to bear. As we rode back, I noticed close by the lane several trenches already covered in, one with a strip of wood at its head marked with this inscription: “Colonel Garland and eighty dead rebels.” < I am simply unable to understand who Noyes is talking about here. One would think of Samuel Garland – the General killed three days earlier at Fox’s Gap, but it cannot be him (see my further remarks below). I conclude that Noyes is mistaken on this point as to the name he saw and reports.> Details of our soldiers from the various regiments were collecting their comrades, bringing in the bodies on fence-rails, identifying them, and laying each in his own separate grave, with a head-piece inscribed with his name and regiment. Of course I cannot personally speak with positiveness as to the comparative numbers of the dead on each side, but from my own observation, and the opinions of old experienced officers, our late foes seemed to outnumber our own dead in the proportion of four to one. <Though this may have been true at certain places, overall, this is a great exaggeration of the numbers.> Two days of laborious sepulchral will be necessary before they are hidden away in the bosom of our cherishing mother; during two days more of sunlight and darkness, of hot noontide and chilly midnight, must some of these poor mangled forms lie here untouched, untended, to be hurried by stranger hands at last into a common and nameless grave. <The following is an outstanding example of the writing skills of Noyes – that cause me to be drawn to his prose as a master of English language syntax and communication.> Thank God that to the former occupants of these defaced bodies, now dwellers in far other mansions, the fate of these their former habitations is no longer of interest. Not for these poor shipwrecked forms, then, need we reserve our pity, but for the broken circles of which every man among these unburied thousands formed a part – for the homes throughout the South and the North made wretched this day with the first hints of their new sorrow – for the widow, the orphan, the lover! Oh war! war! war! Out of this sad presence silently we rode toward the setting sun, to find our head-quarter tents pitched on the edge of the battlefield, and to be soon seeking in sleep forgetfulness of war and all its horrors.
Regarding Samuel Garland – One might speculate that the troops of Garland’s Brigade – who fought at west end of Bloody Lane near the Hagerstown Turnpike – might have carried with them the body of their fallen leader from three days earlier …. And to speculate further that he was called “Colonel” because of his beloved association in that rank for the 11th Virginia… And to imagine he was temporarily buried there … yes, far-fetched, but there is to my knowledge no other Colonel Garland.
But this cannot be the case, according to this following excerpt from the 1996 issue of America’s Civil War: Garland’s remains were escorted home to Lynchburg by his cousin and aide-de-camp Lieutenant Maurice Garland. By order of the City Council, his body was to lie in state in the Lynchburg Courthouse for a period of 24 hours. On Friday, September 19, 1862, Garland’s funeral was conducted at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, with interment following at Lynchburg’s Presbyterian Cemetery. Garland was buried in the Meem family plot alongside his wife and young son. By resolution of the Lynchburg City Council, all business establishments were closed, all churches were ordered to toll their bells, and all soldiers then in the city were detailed to march in the procession. Almost the entire population of the city attended the ceremony for the much admired citizen who, in the words of The Lynchburg Virginian, ‘hated war, but excelled at it.’
Of this Confederate leader, D.H. Hill wrote in his after-action report: Brigadier-General Garland was killed at South Mountain–the most fearless man I ever knew, a Christian hero, a ripe scholar, and most accomplished gentleman.