It’s difficult to believe that about 150 years ago, what is now a peaceful, mostly rural landscape of Maryland’s panhandle was marred by one of the shortest and most important battles of the Civil War.
September 17, 1862–the bloodiest day in American wartime history. Robert E. Lee led his Confederate troops from Virginia to Antietam Creek where they encountered General McClellan’s Union Army. By the end of the day, a total of 23,000 casualties, (3,600 dead from both sides) peppered the farmlands with the blood draining from the bodies of Union and Confederate troops alike.
On September 18, Lee withdrew his troops that remained and retreated into Virginia. President Abraham Lincoln saw this as a victory for the Union, and five days later, issued his Emancipation Proclamation.
Most people, I think, would say the document freed the slaves, and leave it at that. But do you know the Proclamation was issued twice by the President? I found an interesting article of ten facts explaining in depth what the Emancipation Proclamation really means, published online by American Battlefield Trust. It’s worth the time to read the information and realize this was not a “one size fits all” document. President Lincoln must have given it careful thought and probably made many adjustments to cover everything he wanted to include. Copies of actual photographs accompany the article, enriching the reading even more.
I know if I were to stand at the rim of the site of battle, and envision what must have taken place there that late summer day, reality wouldn’t even begin to take hold of what those people suffered on that day. Was the heat of a dying summer enough to overcome thirst-driven soldiers? The need for water must have been a major issue for them as they wielded their weapons, seeking to gain even a foot of ground against the enemy. Had they slept the night before, or had most lain awake trying to anticipate what the new dawn would bring? What were their families and loved ones that they left behind thinking and doing? Would they ever see them again? I could continue developing similar thoughts, trying to bring to life that September day. In the end, I know I could not. I just need to read the history, reflect on it, and wonder if, today, it was worth the sacrifices those men and their families made.