Sunday, September 23, 2012

Civil War Sunday - "Pictures of the Dead"

A week ago, I was inside this church building near Sharpsburg, MD, along with a crowd of people visiting for a certain anniversary.

As we heard cannons booming nearby, a speaker spoke to us:

Imagine yourself inside this church, 150 years ago this week.  You are a member of the Old German Brethren, called "Dunkers" by the locals.  Things have not gone easy since the War Between the States broke out almost 1 1/2 years ago.  Your home state, Maryland, is under military occupation by the Federals.  And the Confederates have invaded.  Rumor has it that they are nearby.  Everyone is nervous, at the Sunday service.  If you say the wrong things, you can be arrested.

But you, and your brethren, are pacifists.  What can you do?

A few days later, the church is empty.  It is early morning. 

Suddenly there is gunfire and a battle is raging around your church.

 (Photos taken 9/16/12 at the Dunker Church, Antietam Battlefield near Sharpsburg, MD, courtesy of AM).

By the time darkness falls, there will be some 23,000. casualties on both sides (dead, injured, missing).  The name will live on in history....Antietam. 

We are so fortunate that this battlefield has been preserved (unlike so many others) and we can walk its fields.

Photographers were on the scene quickly and took pictures of the dead.  Mathew Brady exhibited the photos at his New York City studio in October of 1862.

For one of the first times, civilians could see the true horror of war.  One famous photo shows a dead Confederate gun crew  with the Dunker Church in the background.

To quote from the New York Times review of the exhibition:

But there is a poetry in the scene that no green holds or smiling landscapes can possese. Here lie men who have not hesitated to seal and lamp their convictions with their blood, -- men who have lung themselves into the great gulf of the until own to teach world that there are truths [???] than life, wrongs and shames more to be dreaded than death. And if there be on earth one spot where the grass will grow greener than on another when the hunt, Summer comes, where the leaves of Antumn will shop more lightly which they fall like a benediction upon a work completed and promise fulfilled, it is these soldiers' graves.
The exhibition was called, simply, "Pictures of the Dead".

But it would not prevent the war from continuing.  Or, the issuing of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago yesterday, September 22, 1863, in the wake of that bloodiest of days.

That bloodiest of battles, that began at a church of people believing in peace.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting and the links too. Read that the war provided opportunities for photographers from a business standpoint too. Sad to think of these men proudly posing for portraits could soon end up in these death shots...


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