Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mark Your Calendars! Todd Brewster Speaking at the Antietam Visitor Center for Maryland Emancipation Day on November 1st!

On November 1, Antietam National Battlefield and Tolson's Chapel in Sharpsburg will be commemorating the 150th anniversary of Emancipation in Maryland and the 1864 Constitution which abolished slavery in the state. We will be hosting speakers and events at both the Antietam Visitor Center and Tolson's Chapel in Sharpsburg. Our keynote speaker on the evening of November 1 will be Todd Brewster, best-selling author, a journalist from ABC News, Time and Life magazines, and a distinguished lecturer at several universities. 

Mr. Brewster will be speaking on "The Politics of Emancipation", discussing Abraham Lincoln and the decisions relating to the Emancipation Proclamation and the expansion of freedom in the United States. His lecture will cap a day full of speakers and events, the schedule for which can be found here

The evening program will be in the Visitor Center theater at Antietam, and it will begin at 7 pm. Mr. Brewster will be available to sign copies of his latest book, Lincoln's Gamble, after the program.

Below is a full biography of Todd Brewster. We hope to see you at his program on the evening of November 1st!

Todd Brewster is one of America’s most respected journalists. Over a thirty year career that has included stints at Time, Life, and ABC News as well as the publication of two best-selling books, Brewster has broken page one stories and produced award winning documentary series. He is also a sought after lecturer and academic, having served as Distinguished Visiting Professor at Wesleyan University, as Knight Fellow at Yale Law School, and as the Don E. Ackerman Director of Oral History at the United States Military Academy, West Point.

Brewster graduated from Indiana University. He was an editor at American Heritage, then at Life for over ten years. In that time, he also wrote for Time, Vanity Fair, the New York Times, and Sports Illustrated.

In 1994, he moved to television when he became the Senior Editorial Producer of ABC News. While there, he was responsible for the largest documentary project in the network’s history, “The Century,” a multi-episode history of the twentieth century, which was the winner of multiple Emmy awards.

Brewster was co-author, with Peter Jennings, of the companion book to “The Century” (The Century), which spent 48 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and sold more copies than any book of its class in American publishing history. In

2002, the team produced a second major documentary, “In Search of America,” and Brewster was the co-author, with Jennings, of another bestselling volume.

In 2004, Brewster left ABC News to become Knight Fellow at Yale Law School. In 2005, he was Distinguished Visiting Professor in Government at Wesleyan University. In 2006 and 2007, he was Distinguished Visiting Professor in Constitutional Law at Western Connecticut State University. He joined West Point in

2008 where he established the Center for Oral History and led symposia on “Counterinsurgency: Old Doctrine or New?” on PTSD, and on “Race Relations in the Modern Army.” His book, Lincoln’s Gamble, on Abraham Lincoln’s prosecution of the Civil War, was published in September 2014.

Brewster lives in Ridgefield, CT, with his wife, Sylvia, and sons, Jack and Ben. On November 1, at 7 pm, he will be speaking at the Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center on “The Politics of Emancipation”. Copies of his book will be available for purchase at the talk.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Emancipation in Maryland 150: Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation

150 years ago today, the people of Maryland went to the polls to vote on a new constitution that would abolish slavery throughout the state. This post is the first of a series on freedom in Maryland. Today, we look at Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation, and why there was a need for a new state constitution 150 years ago.

The Maryland State Monument at Antietam National Battlefield

The Battle of Antietam, fought Sept 17, 1862, was a epochal moment in American history. Its claims to fame and notoriety are numerous, ranging from the human cost of the battle—over 23,000 casualties in one day, being the bloodiest day in American history—to its impact on the nation at large.

On July 22, 1862, during a Cabinet meeting in Washington, President Abraham Lincoln introduced a potential emancipation proclamation, freeing the slaves in the southern states in rebellion. Lincoln presented the document by stating that he had decided to issue it, but was open to advice on when and how to declare the slaves to be free. After much discussion, Secretary of State William Seward suggested that the president wait for a military victory; the summer of 1862 had many setbacks for Federal forces, and issuing such a measure amidst defeat, Seward suggested, could give the proclamation an appearance of a desperate move. Lincoln thought this advice to be wise, and thus decided to wait for a Union victory before issuing his proclamation.

During the Maryland Campaign, in the weeks leading up to Antietam, President Abraham Lincoln was awaiting the outcome of the impending battle with great anxiety. Lincoln had made a solemn promise to himself and to God.  He decided that should Union forces successfully push Confederates out of Maryland in September 1862, he would then have the military victory necessary to issue his proclamation freeing the slaves in the South. As the armies of Lee and McClellan closed in on the town of Sharpsburg and the banks of Antietam Creek, much more than the fate of the soldiers in the field was at stake. For Lincoln, and for the nation, the future of freedom in the United States hung in the balance. 

On the 17th of September, over 23,000 men fell as casualties in the Battle of Antietam. On the evening of September 18th, Confederate forces began to withdraw from Maryland. Once news reached Washington of the final Confederate withdrawal, Lincoln made some final edits on his proclamation, and decided to go forward with emancipation. Two months to the day from when Lincoln first announced that he would issue the document, he finally went ahead with the measure. On September 22, 1862, as a direct result of the bloodshed at Antietam, Lincoln issued his preliminary proclamation.

In what is arguably the greatest single presidential action in American history, Lincoln’s proclamation declared that, as of January 1, 1863, when he signed the final version, all slaves in those states then in rebellion against the federal government would be “then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

The proclamation was a landmark event, signaling that the war—and indeed the nation—had crossed a point of no return. There was now no possibility of going back to the country as it once was. The Union of 1860 had died alongside the soldiers who were slain at Antietam. Now, the war would be fought for a new and better Union. It would be a Union without slavery. The war had a higher purpose. The link between these events and Antietam give all the more meaning to the casualties who fell on that fateful September day. As one Antietam veteran, Colonel Ezra Carman, said at a monument dedication speech upon the battlefield years later, “On this field died human slavery.”

While all of this is true, the story of the Emancipation Proclamation has another side to it, a more complex one. Throughout the decades, many historians have questioned the efficacy of the proclamation. Its language does not appeal to our hearts and minds, as Lincoln did on other occasions such as the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. Rather, the Emancipation Proclamation was a legal document with precise and somewhat dry specifics. Esteemed historian Richard Hofstadter noted that the proclamation had “the moral grandeur of a bill of lading.”

While the proclamation was a broad, powerful, and important statement, it still left some questions unanswered and did have some limitations, as any legal document would. Lincoln issued this document as a result of his authority as commander-in-chief. Along these lines, Lincoln was freeing slaves according to their status as “rebel property” during the war. Therefore, the proclamation was in a sense limited to the scope of the war. Once the war was over, questions would emerge regarding the status of those impacted by the proclamation. Slavery itself still needed to be abolished throughout the Union—a task that was completed in 1865 with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Thus, the constitutional status of these slaves was still to be determined. Lincoln wrote in the proclamation that the government would “recognize and maintain” slaves’ freedom, but more work was still needed in that regard.

Perhaps the greatest issue of limitations with the Emancipation Proclamation has to do with where it applied and where it did not. Because the proclamation was issued as a war measure, President Lincoln could only apply it to areas that were actually in rebellion against the Union. Thus, those portions of the South that were held by Union forces on January 1, 1863, were excluded. The presence and movement of the Union army would ultimately bring freedom to those in these territories, as the proclamation ultimately empowered the armed forces of the Union to become armies of liberation.

Also excluded from the direct impact of the proclamation were the slave holding states that remained in the Union during the war. Known as Border States, Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland were a collective source of great consternation, frustration, and worry for both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. Each leader watched the actions of these states carefully, hoping and wishing that they would influence the war one way or another. In fact, one of the primary reasons why Lincoln did not declare emancipation sooner was that he was terribly worried over the impact a proclamation could have on the Border States. With slavery still present in these areas, and with their geographic locations being crucial to the outcome of the war, Lincoln had to walk a fine line regarding his policies in theses states. If Lincoln were to act too soon or too strongly in bringing freedom to slaves, a state such as Maryland could break away from the Union and join the Confederacy. In that event, Washington D.C., the Federal capital, would be located between two Confederate states, and the war—and the Union—would surely be lost. Thus, throughout the war, Lincoln had to create his policy regarding slavery with one eye towards his personal goal of emancipation and the political realities of the Border States.

And thus, one of the great ironies of the battle of Antietam was that it was perhaps the single most important battle of the war when it came to influencing national policy regarding slavery and freedom, yet there were still limits. Antietam was the battle that led to the Emancipation Proclamation, a document which did not apply to the state where the battle was fought—Maryland.
Is all this to say that the Emancipation Proclamation was unimportant? Certainly not. In fact, the Emancipation Proclamation still remains a tremendously important document in American history. It set a standard for expanding freedom throughout the nation during the Civil War, a standard that ultimately led to forever eradicating slavery in the United States. Yet, just as the Declaration of Independence declared the thirteen colonies to be free and sovereign states, the job was not yet finished. George Washington and the Continental Army still had to endure the long, grueling, and perilous war to finally secure the independence and freedom of the United States of America. Both the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation promised freedom to millions—more work was still needed in each case to turn that promise of freedom into the reality of freedom. That work involved Union forces continuing on in the war, the government continuing to pass legislation expanding freedom for slaves and free blacks, and the various states enacting measures impacting slavery within their own borders.

This work, as Lincoln saw it, was crucial not just for those who were held as slaves, but for the nation as a whole. In December 1862, at the conclusion of his annual message to Congress, Lincoln included a plea to the nation to continue with the struggle for freedom during the war.

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We -- even we here -- hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.

Thus, even with the Emancipation Proclamation, more work was still needed. While the events of 152 years ago at Antietam led to the Emancipation Proclamation, the events of 150 years ago within Maryland carried the mission of freedom the rest of the way for the slaves in this crucial Border State. In 1864, an event occurred in Maryland which overcame the legal and practical restrictions of the Emancipation Proclamation, and it happened in a way that was reflective of politics during the Civil War. 150 years ago today, citizens in the state of Maryland voted to either approve or reject a new constitution which would abolish slavery within its borders. 

Let’s learn more about how this amazing event came to occur 150 years ago, and how it fits in with the broader story of slavery and freedom during the Civil War. Stay tuned to our blog for more on this historic anniversary of emancipation in Maryland.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mark Your Calendars! November 1, 2014: Maryland Emancipation Day at Antietam

Maryland Emancipation Day Celebrations Being Held at Antietam National Battlefield and Historic Tolson’s Chapel Sat., Nov. 1

Sharpsburg, MD –  Maryland freed all people held in bondage within its boundaries on November 1, 1864 with a new state constitution. 150 years later, commemorations are being held at the Antietam National Battlefield and the historic Tolson’s Chapel on Saturday, November 1, 2014.

Lectures, special exhibits, music and dramatic performance are scheduled throughout the day.

Schedule of Events
10:00 a.m.--Lecture: Edie Wallace, Effect of Maryland Emancipation on local African-Americans, including Jeremiah Summers and Hilary Watson, slaves on Antietam Battlefield farms.
Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center

11:00 a.m.--Lecture: Dr. Tom Clemens, Maryland Emancipation from a State Perspective
Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center

1:00-4:00 p.m.--Tolson’s Chapel will be open to the public

2:00 p.m.--150th Anniversary Celebration at Tolson’s Chapel with:
Keynote Speaker Dr. Hari Jones, Curator, African-American Civil War Memorial & Museum
Actress Jayné Price portraying emancipated slave Teany Watson
Music in the Gospel Style

7:00 p.m.--Lecture: Todd Brewster, author of Lincoln’s Gamble—The Politics of Emancipation

Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mark Your Calendars! 7th Michigan Battle Walk on September 28th

7th Michigan Infantry Regiment
Battle Walk

Sunday September 28
1 pm

“I would not be in Michigan this day, 
and if I never see it again, 
be sure I fall a willing offering.”
- Captain James H. Turrill, Company G

Follow the men of the 7th in Union General John 
Sedgwick’s division of the II Corps as they attack 
Stonewall Jackson’s men in the West Woods

Who were the men of the 7th Michigan?

What was it like to live in a Civil War army regiment?

What drove the men to fight?

Learn about the regiment

Learn about the men

Retrace their steps as you follow them into battle

Program duration: 1 hour 30 minutes
** Walk begins at Auto Tour stop #3 and ends at Tour stop #5 **

(Leave your car at the Visitor’s Center or Tour stop #5)

Appropriate footwear required. Parts of the program will involve walking over uneven terrain.See the daily schedule at the Visitor’s Center Information Desk to check for all program times.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Mark Your Calendars! 152nd Antietam Battle Anniversary Schedule!

We are just one week away from the start of events for the 152nd anniversary of the Battle of Antietam!!

Mark your calendars! Our full schedule of events can be found at this link:

We have a full 8 days from September 13 through September 21, filled with hikes, ranger talks, lectures, firing demonstrations, and even an evening campfire program! Check out the schedule above for more information!!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The 7th Michigan Infantry at Antietam

The Seventh Michigan Infantry at Antietam

By Tom Nank,
Interpretation Intern, CWI, Gettysburg College

“I would not be in Michigan this day, and if I never see it again, be sure I fall a willing offering.” - Captain Henry Turrill, Company G

            In July 1861, the defeat of the Union Army at the First Battle of Bull Run convinced many that the Civil War would not be a quick one, and that many more soldiers would be needed for a long fight.  On August 3rd, Congress authorized President Abraham Lincoln to call up 500,000 more volunteers from the states to join the Union armies.  From this request would come the men that would fill several more Michigan units in addition to the four already in the field.  One of these new units would be the 7th Michigan Infantry Regiment.   It was decided this new regiment would “muster in” in the city of Monroe, 40 miles south of Detroit on Lake Erie.  The Commercial newspaper of Monroe sounded the call for new recruits:

There is but one feeling, one sentiment, one voice: and that is, the administration must be sustained, the Stars and Stripes defended, and our government preserved.  However much political opinions may have divided us, there is no difference now.  Our country sounds the bugle note of alarm, and the people respond as one.

            Men enlisted in the 7th from all over the state.  Eventually, 1,020 men from as far away as the Upper Peninsula would fill ten companies.  Several state militia units joined the 7th in Federal service, such as “The Union Guard” of Port Huron, “The Blair Guards” from Farmington, “The Prairieville Rangers” and “The Jonesville Light Guard”, led by Captain Henry Baxter, a miller who had returned home to Michigan after an unsuccessful trip to California in search of gold.  These militia units would become distinct companies within the 7th.  Company D, formerly the “Monroe Light Guard” would be filled with local men from Monroe, men like Sergeant John A. Clark, who would become an officer within 7 months, and Private Basil Deshetler.  Other men from across the state would report to Monroe, including Captain Henry Turrill, a lumberman from Lapeer, and Sergeant Samuel Hodgman, a 30-year old from Kalamazoo County who left work in his father’s shoe shop to join the army. 

            After 4 weeks of drilling and training in Monroe, the 7th was officially mustered into Federal service on August 22, 1861 with 884 men assigned.  It was stationed outside Washington DC from September 1861 to March 1862, mostly on picket duty and drilling at their camp near the Potomac River at Poolesville, Maryland.  During the winter of 1861-62, 30 men from the 7th regiment would die of disease in winter quarters, most from the measles.  The men’s fighting spirits would not be dampened, however.  Although combat so far eluded them, the men had not lost their determination to fight and to win the war.  Charles Benson from Company I wrote in his diary on New Years Eve:

I have been five months in the service.  I do not regret that I engaged in such a good cause, a cause in which hundreds of thousands of our countrymen engaged, leaving all the joys & comforts of home to maintain their country’s honor & put down this monster rebellion which aims at the very heart of our great & free government.

            The 7th Michigan men that would fight at Antietam were not green, untested troops.  In May 1862 the regiment participated in General George McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, where at the Battle of Fair Oaks, the regiment played a critical role during an attack on a Confederate position.  The regiment was posted on the left flank of the brigade and successfully attacked the rebel flank in a dense woodlot.  A month later, they were involved in six separate engagements during the Seven Days battles.  The regiment would suffer nearly 200 total casualties during the Peninsula Campaign, almost one quarter of the men who left Monroe nine months earlier.

            The impact of the death and suffering clearly left a mark on the men.  They had seen their comrades shot dead on the battlefield, and each of the men confronted their own mortality.  Five days before Fair Oaks, Captain Turrill from Lapeer in Company G, wrote to his wife Elizabeth:

I have no fear for the result of the battle should we be in one, and I shall do all in my power for my men and victory.  Should I fall I feel that I have left a richer legacy to my family than in any other event I could bestow.  While I have been in the service, I know I have done that which my judgement dictated was right for me to do as an officer, and often when duty lay in an opposite direction to that which my feelings would lead me.

Sergeant Samuel Hodgman, pictured here as a lieutenant

Samuel Hodgman, the First Sergeant of Company I, wrote his parents:

None of us feel fainthearted yet.  The nearer the prospect of danger the less I seem to dread it.  I know not how it will be when I come to stand face to face with it.  When it is the will of God that I shall do so, I shall try and do my duty like a man, let the consequences be what they may.

            On June 28, before the Seven Days campaign, Captain Allen Zacharias of Company K, a native of Washington County, Maryland and a professor at the Michigan State Military Institute, wrote a short autobiography on a piece of paper which he kept with him.  On the other side of the note he wrote:

Friend: If you find my body lifeless upon the field, bury it decently, mark its resting place, and inform my friends in the regiment and my father.  Do this and you shall be liberally rewarded and have the gratitude of my friends.

            Captain Zacharias would survive the Peninsula Campaign without harm, but he kept the note.  Two weeks later, on July 11, while the army regrouped and recuperated around Washington, Captain Zacharias would write another letter, this one to the father of Private Noah Teall, one of his soldiers in Company K who had died the previous morning of dysentery:

Dear Sir:  It has become my melancholy duty to communicate sad intelligence in regard to your son, Noah.  He lives no more.  At 9 o’clock yesterday morning his eyes were closed in that “last long sleep that knows no waking”…  Clothed in the blue uniform of a Union soldier his body was placed in a decent pine box, and with Rev. Basil L. Deshetler and myself leading, and the company following, he was borne by his comrades this morning to its last resting place… At the head of the grave I will have a board erected with name etc. to mark the place.

Captain Zacharias and Private Deshetler would both face death at Antietam with the rest of the men of the 7th Michigan.

Private Basil Deshelter

            All the men of the 7th knew the coming battle in Maryland would be decisive: Robert E. Lee’s invading Confederate army had to be turned back.  The 7th arrived on the east side of Antietam Creek on the evening of September 16th.  Private Frederick Oesterle of Tuscola County remembered:

We received 40 rounds of cartridges in our boxes and 20 additional rounds in our haversack.  Many goodbyes were said and letters were sent home to our loved ones.  Prayer meetings were held throughout the army…

Captain Turrill wrote again to his wife at home in Lapeer:

I am sure I fight for a brave, generous people who will see my family provided for if I am lost to them, and I am sure that you dear will keep my memory fresh with my son and daughter.  For yourself, love, and for my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, I feel that the grief of our parting will be tempted by the feeling that the cause was worth the sacrifice.  I would not be in Michigan this day, and if I never see it [again], be sure I fall a willing offering.  Hope has a brighter side, lets look on that hopeful side for this is where I want to look.

Captain Henry Turrill

            Around 8:00 on the morning of September 17, 1862, the division of Major General John Sedgwick, three brigades with over 5,000 men from General Edwin Sumner’s II Corps, crossed Antietam creek in columns.  The 7th was in the brigade of Brigadier General Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana with four other regiments, all veterans of the Peninsula fighting.  Sedgwick’s orders were to move his division into the West Woods and strike the Confederate left flank, which had been heavily damaged by the I and XII Corps earlier in the morning.  Arriving in the East Woods some three hours after the battle had begun, the division shifted to a line formation by brigade, three half-mile-long parallel lines of brigades stretching from the southern end of the Cornfield across the Smoketown Road.  Dana’s brigade was second in line, and the 7th Michigan was posted on the far left flank, just as they were at Fair Oaks.

            The commanding officer of the 7th was Colonel Norman J. Hall.  From Monroe County, Hall was a 1859 graduate of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating 13th of 22 in his class.  He was at Fort Sumter during the bombardment there in April 1861 as a Lieutenant in the 1st US Artillery, so he had already become somewhat of a celebrity back in Monroe.  He assumed command of the regiment two months before the battle.  Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Baxter from Jonesville was the second in command.  Both of Baxter’s grandfathers had served in the Revolutionary War.

            Shortly after 9:00 am, the men moved out from the East Woods to the west across an open field shoulder to shoulder.  In front of them was the 34th New York, to their right was the 42nd New York.  Sedgwick’s third brigade was in line behind them, and their left hung in the air with no support.  About 75 yards separated the brigade lines.  As they cleared the trees, they immediately came under Confederate artillery fire from the ridge beyond the woods to the west.  Sergeant Hodgman and the rest of Company I were in the center of the line near the colors.  

The troops were advancing in two lines about 10 or 12 rods apart.  The shell exploded directly in front of the first line not more than 6 or 7 feet from the ground.  The next exploded directly in the second line about breast high.  In both cases the lines never wavered for an instant but pressed on regardless of the storm of iron and lead which soon began to tell so fatally on their ranks.
I endeavored to rally our men around [the colors] twice and was then wounded… I bear the marks of it in the shape of a ball hole through my left leg about 4 or 5 inches above my knee, and a good hard rap from a piece of shell on the inside of the calf on the right.

Private Oesterle in Company E remembered:

It was almost impossible to advance, the ground was covered so thick with dead and dying men of both sides, as the field had been fought over twice previous to our advance…

            As the regiment crossed the Hagerstown Pike and went into the West Woods, the brigade commander, General Dana, wrote in his report of the battle:

I received an order to move forward at double-quick and enter the woods in front.  The outline of the woods was irregular, presenting a salient point where the left of my line first entered.  The first line was now hotly engaged in front, and hardly had my left regiment entered the woods when a tremendous musketry fire opened on my left and front, apparently perpendicular to my line of march and flanking the first line.  Almost immediately a regiment of infantry came running in great disorder from the woods on my left, and the 7th Michigan commenced to deliver an oblique fire to the left.  There was no time to wait for orders, the flanking force, whatever it was, was advancing its fire too rapidly on my left.  I permitted the three right regiments to move on, but broke off the 42nd New York Volunteers, with orders to change front to the left and meet the attack which had apparently broken through the first line on my left and front, and was now precipitated with fury on my left flank.  The 42nd moved up nobly to its work, but before it was formed in its new position, and whilst it was in disorder, the enemy was close up on it, and the fire which was poured upon it and the 7th Michigan was the most terrific I ever witnessed.

            Confederates entered the West Woods from the south just as Sedgwick’s three brigades entered it from the east.  The long brigade lines proved difficult to maneuver in the dense trees.  The flanking fire the rebels delivered into the regiments on the left was devastating.  Private Oesterle continued:

My company went into this fight with 36 men and in thirty minutes we rallied only 15… our company lost every non-commissioned officer but one.  I had the button of my cap shot off, one ball went through my blouse pocket and tore my dictionary to pieces, another cut my leg just above the knee and another grazed my right arm, but not any of them severe enough to disable me.

Sergeant Hodgman, already wounded before the regiment went into the trees, remembered:

It was perfectly awful where we were.  Infantry in front and in flank, artillery in flank and in front, all pouring in upon us a terrible storm of iron and lead.  It seemed almost a miracle that any escaped… I was not very ambitious to see how long I could stay amongst the balls.  They were flying all around each side, over, in front, and behind me and like plums in a pudding.  The shells were bursting in every direction… I could not help admiring the scene terrible as it was and full of danger at every step.  [The men] had no opportunity to distinguish themselves personally, all stood together to shoot and be shot.  We had no hand to hand fighting.  The one that could load and fire the fastest did the Rebs the most damage.

            Some of the attacking regiments drifted off to the north and west to the far edge of the woods. The 42nd New York and 7th Michigan struggled together to hold the left of Dana’s brigade in the woods just north of the Dunker Church.  They were joined by the 34th New York, which had become separated from the other units in the first brigade line.  Confederate brigades from Mississippi under William Barksdale and Georgians under George T. Anderson hammered the Michigan and New York men.  General Dana, by now severely wounded in the left leg, wrote:

I remained with these two regiments, and, although the shattered remnants of them were forced by overwhelming numbers and a cross-fire to retreat in disorder, I bear them witness that is was after nearly half of the officers and men were placed hors de combat.  Having retired across the field to the woods on the right and rear about 300 yards, I ordered them to reform.

            Dana turned over command of what was left of the brigade to Colonel Hall.   Now the temporary brigade commander, Hall, slightly wounded himself, attempted to rally the survivors of the five regiments:

At this time, the 7th Michigan was the only regiment in my sight.  The 42nd New York, after making an attempt to rally, was broken completely… I determined to attempt to hold the woods, a quarter mile in rear of the position of the line when the attack commenced.  I caused Captain Hunt, Lieutenant-Colonel Baxter having been disabled by wounds, to establish the 7th Michigan near the edge of the woods…

            Hunt and a few surviving junior officers attempted to rally the Michigan men near a fence at the edge of a tree line in the field they had just crossed.  Lieutenant Clark of Company D attempted to organize a stand there but was shot down with a bullet through the head.  Captain Zacharias of Company K was also shot during the fight.  As he lay on the ground, he struggled to write another note on an envelope:

Dear Parents, Brothers and Sisters:  I am wounded, mortally I think.  The fight rages around me.  I have done my duty, this is my consolation.  I hope to meet you all again.  I left not the line until nearly all had fallen and the colors gone.  I am getting weak, my arms are free, but my chest is all numb.  The enemy trotting over me, the numbness up to my heart.  Goodbye all.  Your son, Allen.

            By 10:00 am the fighting in the West Woods was over.  Surviving elements of the 7th had fallen back all the way to the East Woods from where they began the attack, and into the North Woods on the other side of the Cornfield.  The unit regrouped that evening north of the battlefield but their fight here at Antietam was over. 

What became of the Michigan men that were engaged here?

            Colonel Norman Hall remained in command of the brigade through the Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg campaigns, but was never promoted to Brigadier General, largely due to recurring health issues.  He received a medical discharge in 1864 but returned to Fort Sumter in April 1865 to celebrate the re-raising of the national flag there.

            Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Baxter, wounded in the right leg, took over the regiment when Colonel Hall was elevated to brigade command.  Baxter led the 7th Michigan at the Battle of Fredericksburg three months after Antietam.  He heroically led his men across the Rappahannock River in small boats to clear out rebel sharpshooters harassing the construction of pontoon bridges needed by the army to cross the river.  Baxter was wounded again while crossing in one of the boats.  He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1863 and would command a brigade at Gettysburg.  He would survive the war and go on to become President Grant’s Minister to Honduras.

            Sergeant Samuel Hodgman from Company I, commissioned as a Second Lieutenant two weeks before the battle, would survive his wounds.  He spent three months recuperating in an army hospital in Philadelphia and would return to the regiment in time for the Gettysburg campaign.  He received a medical discharge in March 1864.

            Private Frederick Oesterle would survive the battle here, but would be wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864.  He was mustered out with the 87 surviving members of the regiment at the end of the war in July 1865.

            Private Charles Benson, who wrote the hopeful note for 1862 in his diary on New Year’s Eve, also survived the battle.  He was killed at the Wilderness on May 6, 1864.

            Captain Henry Turrill of Company G, who wondered if he would ever see Michigan again, would not.  He was killed here and buried on the battlefield by his comrades.  His father James came to Sharpsburg in October to claim his son’s body, and wrote:

I had to traverse the battlefield to discover amidst the multitude of graves the one dear to me.  After I found where he was laid it was quite difficult to make the necessary preparations to remove it.  There were so many on the same sad errand from every part of the country.  I think I met twenty bodies being reclaimed in going eight miles, and this was everyday business.  It was sad, oh how sad, to meet father and brother and sometimes mothers in search of remains of their dear ones.

            Private Basil Deshetler, who helped Lieutenant Zacharias bury Private Teall two months earlier, was severely wounded.  As he lay on the battlefield, like Zacharias, he wrote one last entry in his diary:

17 September: Arise at 2 AM, at sunrise in battle 7 AM at which I am wounded.  This is written on the spot wherein I lay.  May God bless me and forgive all my sins, through Jesus Christ .

He died in a nearby hospital on October 9th and is buried in the Antietam National Cemetery.

            Captain Allen Zacharias’s body was found in the West Woods by a soldier from Maine.  He was severely wounded.  In his hand was the last note he had scribbled for his family.  The soldier dutifully mailed the envelope to Zacharias’s father back in Monroe, and included the note Zacharias had written after Fair Oaks.  He was taken to a hospital in Hagerstown where he would die on December 31st.  There were several family members from Maryland there with him, Captain Allen Zacharias would die in the same county in which he was born.

Lt. John Clark

            1st Lieutenant John Clark from Monroe died on the field at the fence line attempting to rally the men.  He was buried by the regiment that evening or the next day.  On the 19th, Alexander Gardner, a photographer from Washington DC, came to Antietam to photograph the battlefield.  He took over 80 images, one of which was a photo of Lieutenant Clark’s grave where he fell.  A dead Confederate soldier lay nearby.  Clark’s childhood friend from Monroe came to Antietam several days later to claim the body and take him back home.  He was 20 years old.

The grave of Lieutenant John Clark, with an unburied and unknown Confederate lying next to him.

            At Antietam, the casualties incurred by Sumner’s Second Corps were double that of any other Union corps engaged on the field that day.  Just in Sedgwick’s division attack here into the West Woods alone, in the span of about twenty minutes, the official report listed 369 killed, 1,572 wounded and 224 missing.  Sedgwick himself was wounded three times in the leg, wrist and shoulder.

            Of 40 Union infantry brigades engaged on September 17th at Antietam, Dana’s ranked first in total number of casualties.

            The 7th Michigan went into the West Woods with 402 men.  39 men were killed, 178 were wounded and four men were reported missing, a total of 221, a 55% casualty rate.  Twenty of 23 officers were killed or wounded.  The casualties in Companies I and K were so high that they were disbanded and the survivors transferred to other companies.  In terms of aggregate losses at Antietam, the 7th Michigan ranked seventh of all 235 Union infantry regiments present.  If compared to Confederate regimental losses at Antietam, the 7th Michigan would rank second on the list of total casualties.  Of all Michigan infantry regiments in the Union armies during the war, the 7th ranked the highest with 15% killed in action.

            When he wrote his official report after the battle, General Howard, writing for the wounded Sedgwick, wrote of the division that: “they have poured out their blood like water, and we must look to God and our country for a just reward.”  Five days after the Union victory here, Abraham Lincoln would issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, forever changing the meaning of the war and the nature of our country.  The country could not reward the men of the 7th Michigan and the others who fought and died in the West Woods, but rather all future generations of free Americans will forever be in their debt.


Richard H. Benson, The Civil War Diaries of Charles E. Benson (Decorah IA: Anundsen Publishing Co, 1991)
George H. Brown, Record of Service of Michigan Volunteers in the Civil War, 1861-1865.
David D. Finney, Jr., Colonel Norman Jonathan Hall of the 7th Michigan Infantry 1837-1867: A Biographical Sketch (Howell MI: NaBeDa Press, 2001)
William F. Fox, Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, 1861-1865.
William J. Frassanito, Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America’s Bloodiest Day (Gettysburg: Thomas Publications, 1978)
Chris Howland, “Wrecked in the West Woods,” America’s Civil War, September 2003, Vol 26, Issue 4.
Charles Lanman, The Red Book of Michigan; A Civil, Military and Biographical History.
Personal Papers of John Morton, Institute Manuscript Archive, U. S. Army Heritage & Education Center (USAHEC), Carlisle PA.
Personal Memoir of Private Frederick W. Oesterle, Civil War Times Illustrated Collection, U. S. Army Heritage & Education Center (USAHEC), Carlisle PA.
Roger L. Rosentreter, “Samuel Hodgman’s Civil War,” Michigan History, November/December 1980, Vol 64, 34-38.
Seventh Michigan Infantry: Miscellaneous Letters and Documents, on file, Antietam National Battlefield Library and Research Center, Sharpsburg MD.
David G. Townshend, The Seventh Michigan Volunteer Infantry (Southeast Publications, 1993)
Jeffrey D. Wert, “Disaster in the West Woods,” Civil War Times, October 2002, Vol 41, Issue 5.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Mark Your Calendars! Antietam Hike and Campfire on September 16th!

Now that we are into the warm and humid days of August, once again, September and battle anniversary are just around the corner. For our interpretive staff at Antietam National Battlefield, this means preparing for our annual anniversary programs. Each year, we offer overview hikes, in depth hikes, battlefield tours, special talks and lectures, and so much more. You can find the complete schedule of events for our battle anniversary here.

We wanted to take a moment to tell you about something new we are doing for the first time this year. On the evening of September 16, Rangers Brian Baracz and Dan Vermilya are offering a new program titled, "The Eve of Battle."

Starting at 6 pm at the New York State Monument (located near the Visitor Center), Ranger Brian will be leading a real time hike to the historic East Woods, discussing the movements of the Union and Confederate armies on the day and evening before the battle. The program will examine the skirmish fighting on the evening of the 16th, as well as how these armies came to occupy the positions they held at the start of the bloodiest day in American history on the morning of September 17, 1862.

Following the hike, you can join Ranger Dan at the Maryland State Monument at 7 pm for a battlefield campfire program. This program will take a broad look at the men who composed the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia at Antietam, examining how they got to this place in their lives and how the country arrived at this point in American history. Then, as the sun sets on Antietam Battlefield on the eve of the 152nd anniversary of the battle, park volunteers will read quotes from the soldiers of both sides describing what the Maryland Campaign was like for common soldiers, as well as what the night of September 16, 1862 was like for the men who lived it and endured the bloodiest day in American history the following morning.

We hope you will join us on Tuesday, September 16, 2014, at 6 and 7 pm for this very special program commemorating the 152nd anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. Please bring a flashlight and a lawn chair for the campfire portion of the program. This is just one of our many programs scheduled for mid-September. We will have a full schedule of events that week to commemorate the anniversary of the battle, and we hope to see you for quite a few of them!

Dan Vermilya
Park Ranger