From Antietam to Fredericksburg, and Back Again: The Scene Atop the 132nd Pennsylvania’s Antietam Monument

The 132nd Pennsylvania monument at Antietam’s Sunken Road. The shot away portion of the flag staff can be seen lying at the soldier’s feet. (National Park Service)

Twice in three months, the 132nd Pennsylvania Infantry charged against Confederates hunkered down in a sunken road. At Antietam, the regiment received its baptism of fire. After the battle, the rookie regiment counted its losses: 30 killed, 114 wounded, and 8 missing or captured. Almost three months later to the day, the men of the 132nd Pennsylvania charged against the Confederate artillery on Marye’s Heights and the Confederate infantry in the sunken road below. The survivors once again had to tally their casualty figures: 7 killed, 80 wounded, and 20 missing or captured. After nine months of service, the regiment’s survivors were mustered out of the United States Army.

Decades after the war, the veterans of the 132nd Pennsylvania decided they wanted to dedicate a monument to their fallen comrades who perished in front of two sunken roads. They selected Antietam as their location for the monument, and it was dedicated on September 17, 1904, along with most of the battlefield’s other Pennsylvania monuments. Sitting just inside the Confederate line at Antietam’s Sunken Road, the monument is described as being “composed of a 7 foot granite statue of a color bearer, standing atop an octagonal pedestal. The figure is shown holding the colors at the moment the staff has been shot away.” The dramatic moment depicted atop the monument and its prominent placement at one of Antietam’s bloodiest sections makes it one of the battlefield’s most recognizable—and photographed—monuments.

What is interesting about the monument and the color bearer standing on its pedestal keeping the American flag aloft is that this event occurred not at Antietam where the monument stands, but instead at Fredericksburg. During the battle, the regiment’s entire color guard became casualties. The color company’s commander, Lt. Charles McDougal, called for Lt. Frederick Hitchcock, the regiment’s adjutant, to “replace these disabled men, so that the colors should be kept flying. He had one flag in his hand as I approached him,” remembered Hitchcock, “and he was in the act of handing it to me when a bullet crashed through his arm and wrist, spattering my face with his warm blood. I seized the staff as it fell from his shattered arm. The next instant a bullet cut the staff away just below my hand.” Moments later, Hitchcock went down with a head wound.

The moment that a Confederate bullet severed the bottom half of the flagstaff that Hitchcock held aloft is depicted on their Antietam monument. Many regimental monuments have cookie-cutter soldiers perched atop them that, if one looks closely, can be found on other monuments. The 132nd Pennsylvania’s monument commemorates a real, specific event in its history, just not an event that occurred at the place where it stands.

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