“A Fury Unequaled”: A North Carolinian’s Account of Antietam

Finding personal accounts of battlefield experiences always raises my eyebrows, as it does for many of you. The details and immediate stories they contain are the stuff historians crave.

James Shinn and the 4th North Carolina fought in Antietam’s Bloody Lane.

When I read the account of James W. Shinn, a soldier in the 4th North Carolina Infantry, about the Battle of Antietam, I knew it was one of the best accounts I had seen of the battle. But Shinn’s account was also different. While it does get into the nitty-gritty of the action, it does not lose sight of the larger picture and how he viewed Antietam’s combat.

Here are a few excerpts for you on the 156th anniversary of the battle. 

The battle raged all day with a fury unequaled in the war. Again & again repulsed, the enemy rallied his columns & returned again to the attack with desperate determination. At almost every point he was met & repulsed by the steady unwaving valor of our troops, especially on the right & left. The shades of evening settled over the blood stained field but still the fight went on along a line extending over many miles with unabated fury. The combat seemed to deepen & grow more fierce as night wore on. The dead & wounded lay mingled together covering acres of ground while hundreds that were wounded working their way to the rear. It appeared as though mutual extermination would put a stop to the awful carnage.

During the whole day the earth was laden beneath our feet by the thunder of artillery, the enemy firing with marked precission & constancy while the rifle pieces sent their iron compliments through the air with a fury that was perfectly defeaning.

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