Sunday, September 18, 2016

Throwback Sunday - Pictures of the Dead

I don't know how many of my readers have experienced war, either as civilian or military.  I never have.  But if I had lived in certain parts of the United States 154 years ago, I almost certainly would have experienced war.

For four years, 2011 through 2015, I blogged most Sundays about the United States Civil War, 1861-1865.  I may occasionally rerun one of those posts for my newer readers.

Yesterday was the 154th anniversary of what was the bloodiest day in the history of the United States.    More casualties than Pearl Harbor.  More casualties than 9/11.

Take a minute to put yourself in the place of these people near Sharpsburg, Maryland, as the Battle of Antietam (as named by the North)/Battle of Sharpsburg (as named by the South) begins.

You are in a state that has stayed with the United States as the country has been torn apart - but, right on the border, and, so much is at stake on this day.

Let me bring you, for a few minutes, to September of 1862.  This post is from the 150th anniversary, September of 2012.

Civil War Sunday - "Pictures of the Dead"

A week ago, I was inside this church building near Sharpsburg, Maryland, 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, 1862, in the wake of that bloodiest of days.

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


  1. So much history. No actually, so many wars have been fought all over the world to bring us to where we are today but honestly I don't know if we as humans have really learnt much from it. I fear we are going back to those olden times with battles being waged in so many parts of the world. I wish we learnt and appreciated history and wars were a thing we read about in books only. Sorry, if I got carried away.

    1. As someone who was briefly a history major in college, I agree we don't learn much from history - we keep repeating the same mistakes, generation after generation.

  2. Such an awful time. I wonder if we've actually learned the lessons from it.

    1. Building on my response to Nabanita, I think that (in some ways) we are still fighting that war. It was an awful time, including the years after the war. There are echoes of it even today.

  3. To answer Nabanita and Liz, no... We don't learn from history, which is why we have to remember that a strong military makes for a strong, freedom-loving country. Brenda

    1. Our country, I think, is so obsessed (if I can use that term) with everyone loving us, we forget that there are people whose #1 goal is to destroy our way of life.

  4. This is the second post I read today after reading mews about a terrorist attack on our army Base at the LoC where 17 soldiers got killed and many more injured. Now our country will retaliate, but of course, and it will go on and on. Once from our side , once from their. And what are we going to gain from all this bloodshed? Surely not peace! Wonder when we humans will really learn.


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