Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Early History of the Battlefield by Brian Baracz

Early History of the Antietam Battlefield
            On September 17, 1862 Union and Confederate forces clashed in and around the peaceful town of Sharpsburg, Maryland.  When the battle was over, more than 23,000 men were strewn across the pastoral fields killed or wounded in what was, and still is today, the single bloodiest day in the history of the United States.  Today, the park shows few signs of this terrible clash of men during the Civil War, only woodlots, cornfields, and an occasional home and bank barn dot the landscape.[1]  It is a place of peace and tranquility, a place for reflection.  Through the early, significant work of the Antietam Battlefield Board, many reunions and monument dedications, and the recorded memories of veterans that took part in this watershed of American history, the Antietam National Battlefield is one of the best preserved battlefields in the country.
            When the plan to preserve America’s Civil War Battlefields was initiated in the 1870’s the country was still very young, not even 100 years old.  Many people had grandfathers who had fought during the Revolution.  Millions of others were witness to or had a connection with the Civil War and they believed it was their duty or obligation to preserve these sacred battlefields.[2]  The establishment of national military parks began in 1890 and initially four battlefields were chosen to act as a Battlefield Park System.  Each site chosen was designated to remember a specific army.  For example, Gettysburg was chosen to memorialize the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia; Chickamauga remembered the Union Army of the Cumberland and the Confederate Army of Tennessee; and Shiloh honored the Union Armies of the Tennessee and Ohio and the Confederate Army of the Mississippi.  After further discussion, it was deemed proper to also remember the Union Army of the Tennessee at Vicksburg because that was thought to be that army’s most successful operation.[3]  Antietam Battlefield was not one of the parks chosen to be included in the Battlefield Park System, but it was still deemed important enough that preservation efforts started in 1890.
            There were two laws passed in Congress in 1890 that provided the legal basis for the Antietam National Battlefield.  Today, relatively little is known about either of these laws except for the fact that they provided money for maintaining the National Cemetery, improving the grounds around the National Cemetery, and “for the purpose of surveying, locating and preserving the lines of battle.”[4]   The first step for locating the lines of battle came on August 1, 1891 when the Secretary of War appointed Colonel John C. Stearns, who served in the Union Army, and Major General Henry Heth, from the Confederate Army, as the men who formed the Antietam Board.
            When the Antietam Board was organized, one man was highly recommended to be placed on the Board, but he was overlooked.  His name was Ezra Carman, and he served as Colonel of the 13th New Jersey Volunteers at the Battle of Antietam.  He was wounded during the war at the Battle of Williamsburg in 1862 and lost almost all of the use of his right arm and during the fight at Kenesaw Mountain, Georgia in 1864 suffered almost a complete loss of hearing.  Despite these physical setbacks, his military career was capped by being brevetted Brigadier General in 1867.[5]

            When he was informed of a new opening on the Board he made another attempt to become a member and was not overlooked a second time.  On October 8, 1894, Ezra Carman was appointed to the position of “historical expert.”[6]  At the same time he was added to the Board, two new positions were created.  Former Union General George B. Davis was named the first President of the Antietam Battlefield Board.  Jedediah Hotchkiss, former Confederate mapmaker for General Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, was selected as mapmaker for the Antietam project.[7]
            The Antietam Board sought to contact veterans asking for their reminiscences of the great battle.  This process was already underway because of the formation of the various veterans groups during this time period.  In addition to receiving much information from these groups, ads were placed in newspapers announcing the work of the Board and their request for information from veterans regarding the battle.  Once a veteran contacted the Board it was not uncommon for numerous letters to be sent between the two parties and for the veteran to send back, in addition to their written memoirs, a map provided by the Board asking the old soldier to mark the map with the position held by their regiment during the day of battle.[8]  The amount of information that flowed into the Antietam Battlefield Board’s office enabled the men the opportunity to cross reference information regarding battle specifics from numerous sources, thus providing the most accurate tactical study of the battle.
            It would seem with Hotchkiss enlisted to draw the map of the Antietam Battlefield that this job of the Board would have been completed with little effort, but that is quite the contrary.  When Hotchkiss received his letter of appointment, he was informed he would only have sixty days to complete his task.  Because of numerous problems and setbacks, the map was not completed in the allotted amount of time and Jedediah Hotchkiss was let go in April 1895 from the Antietam Battlefield Board.  It was at this point, they were left to go about collecting veteran’s recollections with only the crude maps created by Stearns and Heth during their few years together. [9]        

            An important accomplishment of the Antietam Board was the eventual completion of a map of the Antietam Battlefield.   (It is important to note at this time that during the late summer of 1895 a new President of the Antietam Battlefield Board was named, George W. Davis.   The first President Davis had been promoted and transferred to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.)[10]  In May of 1897, President George W. Davis requested help from the Gettysburg Battlefield Commission, “in connection with the preparation of a Map of the Antietam Battlefield.”[11]  Col. Emmor Bradley Cope, Hays W. Mattern, Edgar M. Hewitt and John E. Cope began their work at Antietam and as it turned out Mattern and Hewitt did most of the work on the Antietam map.  Because of the proximity of Gettysburg to Antietam, Col. Cope was not at Antietam on a regular basis; he remained at Gettysburg and just offered suggestions to Mattern and Hewitt in their preparations of the map.
            With the completion of the base map, (known today as the Carman-Cope Map) it was time to add all the information from the Official Reports, unit histories, and veteran’s correspondences to the map to provide a minute-by-minute history of the battle.  Due to the passing of Heth in 1899, Carman became the foremost authority in the implementation of this task.  The project was initially going to be nine maps, with six of the nine showing the various positions regiments held throughout battle.   When the Antietam maps were completed in 1904 there ended up being fourteen maps with the final artwork done by a man named Charles H. Ourand.[12] 
The final report of the Antietam Board was submitted by President George W. Davis on March 18, 1898.  The cost for the salaries of the civilian board members, surveys and maps, land, roads and fencing, observation tower, tablets and other various markers  (monuments to the six generals who were killed or mortally wounded during the battle), and finally other miscellaneous costs totaled $74,081.69.[13]  (It should be noted that no actual land was acquired, just right-of-way access on the roads.)   Over the next forty years, that there were no major improvements or federally funded undertakings at Antietam.  The one exception came in 1904 when Ezra Carman was allowed to make a few corrections and additions to the tablets for a nominal cost.[14]  The early work of acquiring the lands around the Antietam Battlefield and establishing it as one of the most significant battlefields of the Civil War can be attributed to the actions of a few individuals and the memories of the thousands of veterans who corresponded with the Antietam Battlefield Board, specifically Ezra Carman.[15]

The transfer of Antietam and other “historical areas” from the War Department to the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior took place on August 10, 1933 by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.[16]  From that day forward, it has been the mission of the NPS to continue the work started the War Department over one-hundred years ago.  Today the Nation Park Service strives to preserve, protect, interpret, and improve for the benefit of the public the numerous resources associated with the Battle of Antietam and it legacy.

[1] Bank barns are the style of barn most typically found in this region of Maryland.  The barn has an upper and lower entrance to make it easier for a farmer to store their crop in the upper section and drop feed to their animals in the lower area.  These barns are also distinctive because of the ‘cuts’ or ‘slits’ in the side stonework.  The cuts are needed because when ‘curing’ green hay, enough heat can be produced that spontaneous combustion could occur and burn the barn to the ground.  The cuts provide ventilation to prevent this from happening. For more information on historic barns see, Michael J. Auer, The Preservation of Historic Barns, [on-line book] available at  Last accessed November 3, 2003.
[2] Ronald F Lee, The Origin and Evolution of the National Military Park Idea (Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior: National Park Service, 1973) 2.
[3] Lee, Military Park Idea, 24.
[4] Snell and Brown, ANB & NC: History, 69.
[5] David A. Lilley, "The Antietam Battlefield Board and Its Atlas: or The Genesis of the Carman-Cope Maps." Lincoln Herald 82, no. 2 (1980): 382.
[6] Snell and Brown, ANB and NC: History, 84-85.
[7] Lilley, ABB and Its Atlas, p.382.  Davis was the president of the board on the publication for the Official Records and through this project became familiar with Hotchkiss’s work and expertise thus bringing him onboard for this project.
[8] Lilley, ABB and Its Atlas, 383.
[9] In his article on the Carman-Cope maps, Lilley wrote, “In justice to Hotchkiss it is also important to observe that Col. Emmor Cope first estimated that Antietam could be mapped in three months; more than five times that period elapsed before the job was completed, a revealing footnote to compare with the time originally allotted Hotchkiss.” Lilley, ABB and Its Atlas, 384.
[10] Davis wrote in regards to his being at West Point, “I am at too great a distance to direct the work to advantage.” Snell and Brown, ANB and NC: History, 101.
[11] Snell and Brown, ANB and NC: History, 106. 
[12] Lilley, ABB and Its Atlas, 385.
[13] Snell and Brown, ANB and NC: History, 108.
[14] Snell and Brown, ANB and NC: History, 113.
[15] The wealth of information and material collected by the Antietam Battlefield Board can be located at: 1. National Archives Record Group No.92, Office of the Quartermaster General, Entry 705- Correspondence and maps of the Antietam Battlefield Site Board, 1893-1894. 2.National Archives Record Group 94, Records o the Adjutant General’s Office, The general Ezra A. Carman Papers, three or four boxes of correspondence 1895-1897, consisting of letters sent and received by Carman regarding troop positions at Antietam. 3. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Ezra A. Carman Papers, in eight boxes.  Seven contain an unpublished manuscript “History of the Maryland Campaign” and one box has notes and maps for this unpublished work.
[16] The transfer of forty-eight properties included eleven national military parks, two national parks, ten battlefield sites, ten national monuments, four miscellaneous memorials, and eleven national cemeteries.  Snell and Brown, ANB and NC: History, 146.

1 comment: