They Fell On The Fields Of Antietam

Emerging Civil War welcomes back Kristen M. Pawlak (Trout)

On the fields to the east of the small western-Maryland hamlet of Sharpsburg and interposed between the Potomac River and Antietam Creek, just under four thousand Federal and Rebel troops lay dead after twelve hours of brutal combat. September 17, 1862 was the culminating fight after a two-week-long campaign, in which Confederate General R.E. Lee invaded the North to win a decisive battle on enemy territory, bring the fight out of war-torn Virginia, liberate the border state of Maryland, and hopefully convince the European powers of Great Britain and France to diplomatically acknowledge and support the Southern war effort.

With Major General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac in pursuit of the Confederate army, these two colossal armies collided over control of Crampton’s, Turner’s, and Fox’s gaps in South Mountain and at the strategic garrison of Harpers Ferry in the days leading to Antietam. When Lee’s army fell back to Sharpsburg, clinging on the hope they can still achieve a victory on Northern soil, no one could anticipate the cataclysmic number of dead and wounded that would fall on those fields. Sons, fathers, brothers, and husbands were among them; each with a face and a story.

With the recent 155th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, I thought I would share stories of two soldiers whose stories linger far beyond September 17, 1862. The two soldiers chosen for this post could not have been more different: a Federal private and a Rebel officer, an immigrant and a native to his state, a crusty old war veteran and a young commander, a father and a bachelor, and finally, buried known and unknown. Yet, even with these differences, there is one similarity that ties their stories together. They fell on the fields of Antietam. Here are their stories.

Sgt. Miles Casey of the 108th New York Infantry. Courtesy of Carolyn Kumar and Antietam on the Web.

“Thus Heroically Fell Our First Standard Bearer” – Sergeant Miles Casey (Company K, 108th New York Volunteer Infantry)

On September 17, 1862, the 108th New York Infantry (“Rochester Regiment”) constituted part of Brig. Gen. William French’s Division’s assault against the Sunken Road. One of the regiment’s squad leaders and color bearers was 35-year-old Miles Casey, an Irish immigrant and British Army Crimean War veteran. Considered by his comrades to be “a man of noble stature,” Casey carried the New York State colors, the most honorable duty bestowed upon a soldier by his comrades. The 108th New York received heavy fire from the Confederates positioned in the Sunken Road, but continued advancing forward. Private George Washburn of Company C recalled, “bravely the men faced the galling storm of iron hail, and constantly falling until their numbers were so severely decimated, that they withdrew to the meadow over which they advanced.”[1] At some point during the attack, Casey was “badly struck” and taken to the Roulette Barn field hospital, where he laid in a dark corner.[2] Private Washburn and some fellow comrades escorted a wounded soldier to the Roulette Barn, where they saw Casey dying. Shot and shell poured on the barn close to Casey. “We asked him if he was not afraid of being hit. He smiled and replied: ‘Oh no, I’m used to ‘em.’ He said he had been badly struck but guessed he would come out all right, and appeared cheerful and hopeful.”[3] It was the last time Washburn would see him.

Sgt. Casey’s headstone with a memorial flag at Antietam National Cemetery on September 17, 2017. Courtesy of Kristen M. Pawlak.

On September 30, 1862, Sergeant Casey passed away from his wounds, leaving behind a wife and 4-year-old son. The Sisters of Mercy, who were assisting in the care of the wounded and burial of the dead, helped bury him in the fields where he was mortally wounded. While being placed into his grave, General McClellan reportedly rode by on his horse and paused, inquiring about the nature of Casey’s sacrifice. Today, you can visit Sergeant Casey’s gravesite at Antietam National Cemetery.

Known But to God – Captain Houston B. Lowrie (Company C, 6th North Carolina Volunteer Infantry)

In the late evening of September 16, Captain Houston Lowrie and the “Orange Grays” Company of the 6th North Carolina Infantry cooked their meals along the Hagerstown Turnpike near the white brick Dunker Church. Just hours earlier, the I Corps of the Army of the Potomac crossed the Upper Bridge to the north in order to scout out enemy positions and strength. Brigadier Gen. Evander Law’s brigade of Major General John Bell Hood’s division, containing the 6th North Carolina, was deployed earlier by the Cornfield and East Woods that evening and exchanged fire with members of the Pennsylvania Reserves. The Federals fell back before the Rebels advanced. Hood’s division then moved back towards the Dunker Church. The heavy fire that broke out throughout that day was just a precursor to what the next day would bring – especially for Lowrie and his North Carolinians.[4]

Capt. Houston Lowrie of the 6th North Carolina Infantry in full dress uniform holding his sword, Bowie knife, and revolver. Courtesy of FindaGrave.

A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, 23-year-old Lowrie was one of four brothers who joined the Confederate Army as a junior officer in the first wave of Rebel volunteers in the spring of 1861. By September 1862, he was one of three left after his brother Patrick died of yellow fever in the defenses of Wilmington. At the Battle of Seven Pines early that summer, Lowrie was wounded and captured until late June when he was subsequently promoted to captain, leading the Orange Grays into combat at Second Manassas and Chantilly.[5] Now, in the fields near Sharpsburg, Maryland before dawn on September 17, Lowrie and the 6th North Carolina were about to be thrown into the heat of battle along with the rest of Hood’s division.

At dawn on September 17, Confederate batteries opened fire with Federal guns on the east side of the Antietam responding with a devastating effect. The I Corps was ordered to advance south along the Hagerstown Turnpike, just as Hood’s men were cooking breakfast. Hood’s division was moved into formation, with the 6th North Carolina on the right flank of their line. Just after 7:00am, Hood’s division advanced forward to assist in stopping the advancing I Corps. The 6th North Carolina straddled the Smoketown Road as they moved towards the Miller Cornfield in their front.[6]

View of the 6th North Carolina’s advance towards the East Woods and the Miller Cornfield at Antietam National Battlefield. Courtesy of Kristen M. Pawlak.

With Rebel yell, speed, and heavy fire, the Bloody Sixth and Hood’s division were able to force back the Union defenders into the Cornfield. As the division moved further into the fray, Law’s brigade angled further from Wofford’s, but were still able to drive the remnants of Magilton’s brigade momentarily. In those moments in the Cornfield, Captain Houston Lowrie was killed-in-action and his body laid still.

Unlike Miles Casey, who is buried in Antietam National Cemetery, Lowrie’s body was never identified as his. Still to this day, we have no record of where he is. Was he mistaken for a Union officer with his cadet gray frock coat and shoulder boards, and is buried in the National Cemetery as an unidentified Federal? Was he buried in a nearby Confederate cemetery at Shepherdstown, Hagerstown, or Martinsburg? Or is he still out on those fields until we recover his body? We may never find the answer, but we can always remember his story and legacy.

Kristen M. Pawlak (Trout) is the Development Associate for Stewardship at the Civil War Trust. She also sits on the Board of Directors at the Missouri Civil War Museum, and actively volunteers with the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2014 with a BA in History and Civil War Era Studies, and is currently pursuing her MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management at Webster University. From St. Louis, Kristen has a fond interest in the Civil War in Missouri, Civil War medicine, and the war experiences of soldiers.

[1] George Washburn, A Complete Military History and Record of the 108th Regiment NY Vols (Rochester, NY: Press of E.R. Andrews, 1894), 24-25.

[2] Ibid., 26.

[3] Ibid., 26.

[4] Richard Iobst, The Bloody Sixth: The Sixth North Carolina Regiment Confederate States of America (Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Confederate Centennial Commission, 1965), 320.

[5] Compiled Service Record of Houston B. Lowrie, National Archives and Records Administration, Fold3.

[6] Bradley Gottfried, The Maps of Antietam (El Dorado, CA: Savas Beatie, 2012), 142-147.

5 Responses to They Fell On The Fields Of Antietam

  1. Kristen,
    Thank you for your wonderful work. I just found out about this today from my sister, Carolyn Kumar. We are the great-great-grandchildren of Miles Casey and can’t thank you enough!

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