Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"It Must Have Been Terrifying"

In a war that furnished dozens of iconic images, I’ve never been able to shake this one from my mind.

Taken two days after the Battle of Antietam, it is, to say the least, a disturbing image. Two dozen dead Confederates have been gathered and are waiting to be buried on the battlefield. Their clothes are tattered. The landscape is barren. I wonder if these soldiers knew one another?

With almost 23,000 total casualties and more than 3,600 deaths, the Battle of Antietam remains the bloodiest day in American history. Historians are still trying to piece together what happened on September 17, 1862.

I recently came across an ARTICLE about a team of archeologists from the National Park Service doing work at Antietam. Using metal detectors, they are trying to find as many of the spent rounds fired during the battle as they can. They plan to use them to chart the precise movments of individual units during the battle. Some of their observations are fascinating.

By charting shrapnel and spent and unfired bullets, they have traced the retreat of the fleeing 7th Maine near Piper Farm. The archeologists explain that Confederate artillery was simply too intense for the Maine soldiers. They found one shell that was half the size of a human hand, which was probably filled with lead shot the size of ping pong balls, each capable of killing a man or, at the very least, taking off a limb.

“I think about who was out here, that's what I think about—and the proximity to each other. This wasn’t shooting at each other at 250 yards. This was 70 yards. You could see the faces of your enemy,” archaeologist Bob Sonderman said. “It must have been terrifying.”

Terrifying. That’s a good word for what I’ve imagined it might have been like.

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