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.
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.