Ten things you didn’t know about the Battle of Antietam

With the 15oth anniversary of the Battle of Antietam just around the corner, James and Suzanne Gindlesperger, authors of So You Think You Know Antietam? The Stories Behind the America’s Bloodiest Day, shared with us some fascinating anecdotes about the people who lived–and sometimes died–on September 17, 1962. We hope you’ll remember them as you commemorate the anniversary this weekend.


1. Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, attended to the wounded and dying at Antietam. At one point, as she knelt to give a fallen soldier a cup of water, a stray bullet passed through her sleeve and struck her patient in the chest, killing him almost instantly. Another of her patients turned out to be a woman who had been wounded in the neck as she searched for her husband. The monument to Barton has a small red cross at the base made of bricks from the chimney of the house where she was born.

2. Joseph K. F. Mansfield was one of three Union generals killed at Antietam. Mansfield, who entered West Point at the age of 14, graduated second in his class. At age 59, he was one of the oldest officers of any rank on the field that day. He may have had a premonition of his death as, a few days before the battle, he told a friend, “We may never meet again.” His picture was on $500 bills issued in the 1870s.

3. There were actually seven cornfields that saw fighting during the battle, but the one owned by the Miller family is considered one of the bloodiest patches of land in America. The fighting in the “Cornfield” produced so many bodies that a person could walk from one corner to the other without touching the ground.

4. Three Union soldiers from the 27th Indiana’s Company F found an envelope while resting along the roadside near Frederick, Maryland. Inside that envelope were three cigars and a copy of General Robert E. Lee’s Special Orders No. 191, outlining his plans for the upcoming campaign. One of the soldiers who found “the Lost Order” was Private John Bloss, who went on to become president of what is now Oregon State University.

5. One of five wounds to Colonel John B. Gordon of the Sixth Alabama caused him to fall with his face pressed into his hat. The hat rapidly filled with blood, but a hole shot through it saved him from drowning. He went on to become governor and a three-term U.S. senator from Georgia.

6. While the Irish Brigade, famous for its war cry, “Faugh a Ballagh,” or “Clear the Way,” was recruited to fight in the Civil War, there was a secondary motive in the minds of the organizers, who hoped the recruits could be persuaded to eventually fight to liberate Ireland from British rule. The brigade’s commander, Thomas Meagher, had been found guilty of treason in Ireland and banished to Tasmania before fleeing to the United States. During one assault, General Meagher fell from his horse, forcing him to give up command. Meagher claimed that his horse had been shot, but witnesses said that his fall was the result of his consumption of whiskey.

7. It was believed that Robert E. Lee observed much of the battle from atop a large boulder in the area designated for the national cemetery. Because it was unacceptable to have such a landmark where Union soldiers were buried, the rock was dug up, broken into pieces, and scattered. It was later learned Lee had never been on the rock.

8. The 23rd Ohio was the only regiment in either army to have two future presidents in its ranks—Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley.

9. Prior to the battle, Colonel Edward Ferrero disciplined the men of the 51st Pennsylvania Infantry by taking away their whiskey ration. When he asked them to take the Burnside Bridge, the men said they would if he returned their whiskey. They took the bridge; Ferrero returned their whiskey.

10. A couple of innovations never before associated with war came about as a direct result of the battle. Alexander Gardner, assistant to Mathew Brady, went to the battlefield and took shocking photos that revealed to civilians the true savagery of war. Also, Dr. Jonathan Letterman, the chief medical officer for the Army of the Potomac, used ambulances on a large scale for the first time and developed a triage system to evaluate and prioritize the treatment of wounds.


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