At 7 a.m. every September 17, the National Park Service holds a program in David Miller’s cornfield, forever after immortalized as The Cornfield, to commemorate the opening of the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single day in American military history. This program is comprised entirely of the words of soldiers who participated in the battle. This year, due to the COVID pandemic, no such program will be held. I will still be there in the Cornfield as the battle commenced 158 years ago this morning.
Since the program has been unfortunately canceled, I thought I would share with you some of my favorite quotes about the Battle of Antietam. Here they are without any context, just the words of the soldiers themselves.
The morning came, fresh and beautiful but our reveille was not the rattle of the drum, nor the clear notes of the bugle. The day was opened by a fierce volley of musketry, succeeded by another and yet another, which soon were so continuous as to be blended in one continuous roll…. Soon the heavy tones of the cannon were mingled with the sharp crackling roll of small arms, and the din was terrific…. We were immediately ordered under arms, and advanced in the direction of the fight. Halting within easy supporting distance, we were allowed thirty minutes for making coffee. At the end of this time the volume of sound perceptibly increased, and was becoming nearer. The rebels were reinforced and were slowly driving our men before them! ‘Forward,’ shouted General Mansfield, and forward we went in columns of divisions, as cool and regular as in a drill.—“Julius” 7th Ohio Infantry
Such a clash of arms as occurred at Antietam is but feebly represented as a big train wreck, followed by an explosion and fire, and supplemented by a cyclone with a cloud-burst and a wash-out. From the division commanders down to the ‘high privates on the left flank of the company,’ many had been killed and disabled, and their places had to be filled temporarily or permanently, and the depleted ranks recruited.—Sgt. James A. Wright, 1st Minnesota Infantry
South Mountain and Antietam were the first fields of battle I was ever on after the battle was fought. On the Peninsula we fought the battles and then fell back, leaving the enemy in possession of the field, the dead and wounded. It is a sad sight. I hope I may never behold the like again. The dead remained two days untouched. There lay friend and foe locked in the cold embrace of death, unconscious of all that was passing around them finally; as it were to find their last resting place in a strange country where no kind friend may drop a tear to their remembrance. Thus it is that a sad calamity has befallen us. It has left many a void in a once happy household, a vacancy around the hearthstone that the world cannot fill. How long must our country suffer? But let us trust to the God of Battles hoping that He will crown our arms with victory and let us be at rest once more.—George S. Graham, 62nd Pennsylvania Infantry
From east to west, over a space of three miles, could be seen the smoke pouring from the cannons’ mouths, and the report of the guns, peal on peal, sometimes distinct and separate, and sometimes mingled in a terrible roaring, came from every quarter of the scene of the contest. The air was damp and the morning cloudy, and little could be distinguished beyond the hills save the lines of forest and the constant puffs of smoke which rose slowly from the enemy’s guns, and the circles gradually separating which marked the spot where many of our shells had exploded high in the air.—Bartlett, correspondent, New York World
The roar of artillery and the crack of musketry was tremendous, continuing from early morning till late at night. Add to that the bursting of shells, the whistling of bullets, mingled with the groans of the wounded and dying, and the scene beggars description. One can have no idea of it till he has been a participant. Shells burst all about us; solid cannon shot struck where a moment before we were standing, tearing the ground and throwing it over us; musket balls whistled like hail past our ears…—Pvt. Braman I. Wilson, 9th New Hampshire Infantry