"Burnside's Bridge", Antietam National Battlefield Park, near Sharpsburg, MD:
I took this picture on a lovely October day in 1994. I was struck by the peacefulness of the scene; I had just begun to read about this battle--the bloodiest single day in the Civil War, September 17, 1862. And even today, it's still the bloodiest day in all American military history.
The 20th Maine had mustered into Federal Service in August 1862, as part of the Third Brigade, First Division, of the Army of the Potomac's Fifth Corps. On September 12, 1862, the First Division, under the command of General George Morell, moved out of its Washington-area camps, and the men of the 20th Maine began its first long march. Chamberlain rode alongside Colonel Ames, and the two officers made a handsome pair, riding erectly on their horses. The 20th's new uniforms and accouterments made quite a sharp contrast with the more worn apparel of the more veteran regiments.
Moving out of Washington, the men moved northwest into Maryland, toward the city of Frederick. The following day, the men in the newer regiments began discarding all their extra items alongside the road, in order to lighten their loads. The more experienced regiments, instead, rolled the barest of necessities up in a blanket that they wore across the body and over the shoulder; their canteens and mess items were hung from their belts. The dust, kicked up by thousands of marching feet, choked both veteran and new soldier alike, as they sweated in their woolen uniforms. And even the strongest men's wills could no longer command their bodies, as they fell behind their units--they caught up with their comrades long after dark had fallen.
After a forced march of some 24 miles the next day, the 20th Maine went into bivouac along the Monocacy River, two miles from Frederick. All day long, they heard the sound of booming cannon, as the Union forces fought the Confederates for control of three South Mountain passes. South Mountain was the name given to a range of low mountains, which ran north from the Potomac River through Maryland into Pennsylvania. As the Fifth Corps marched into Frederick, Maryland, the following day, they were welcomed enthusiastically by the city's pro-Union sympathizers. The men were given water and bread by handkerchief-waving ladies, who stood at their gates.
A very lovely photo of a now-tranquil Dunker Church -- around which some of the worst fighting took place on that bloody September 17, 1862.
Antietam National Battlefield Park, near Sharpsburg, MD
Photo by David Williamson -- and used with his kind permission.
Do not copy without express written permission from the photographer.
Leaving Frederick behind, the men turned westward, towards Middletown -- where the 20th Maine saw their first Rebel prisoners. One private described them as "tall, lank, slouchy-looking fellows clad in dirty gray uniforms".
Very early the next morning, Chamberlain and the 20th Maine resumed the march. The signs of battle were all around them: wounded men lay in every surrounding house and barn, and fresh mounds of earth showed where the dead were hastily buried. As they entered Turner's Gap -- the main pass through South Mountain -- more signs of the fighting could be seen: discarded guns, knapsacks, hats -- and turned-up earth, and trees scarred by shells and bullets.
Near a stone wall, where the Confederates battled desperately to hold off the men of General John Gibbon's "Black Hat" Brigade almost 36 hours before, lay many unburied Rebels killed in the fight. The bodies were bloodied and bloated -- an awful sight for the Mainers, who weren't used to such scenes.
And their lieutenant colonel was no exception. Chamberlain saw the figure of a Confederate soldier sitting with his back to an old tree. One hand was clasping a small Testament. Moving closer, Chamberlain saw it was a boy
Startled, it was difficult for Chamberlain to realize that
He then saw that the eyes on the boy's face were soft and dim, and there was a red stain on his shirt. The boy had indeed fallen asleep. Maybe not as soon as his surrounding comrades -- but he would never awaken again.
Sickened by what he saw, Chamberlain would not forget that day on South Mountain:
. The 20th Maine would not experience the bloody combat at Antietam, unlike many other green regiments in the First, Second,Sixth, Ninth and Twelfth Corps. They did, however, participate in a brief skirmish on September 30, at the Shepherdstown Ford on the Potomac River:
Here's another beautiful look at Burnside's Bridge.
Antietam National Battlefield Park, near Sharpsburg, MD.
Photo courtesy of David Williamson.
Do not copy without his express written permission.
During the first weeks of his Civil War service, Chamberlain wrote a number of letters to his wife Fannie back in Brunswick. As the correspondence went on, he began to number the letters he sent to her - whether it was due to mail delivery problems, or possibly the fact that Fannie didn't write letters as much as her husband wanted her to.
In one such letter, dated October 10, 1862, Chamberlain refers to that very subject:
"It is very evident that you do not get all my letters: perhaps I don't get yours. Now it occurs to me that it be a good idea to number the letters. I will begin with this, if I can recall all that I have written -- this must be at least the 5th letter of mine to you. O! yes it is the 6th or 7th, I have rec'd from you..."
In the following section from the same letter, Chamberlain is apparently trying to dissuade Fannie from visiting him in the 20th Maine's camp. It was in the immediate aftermath of the horrific battle of Antietam in September, and the Army of the Potomac had recrossed Antietam Creek, and were now situated near a place called Antietam Ford, where the creek flows into the Potomac River.
The reference to 'sweepers' in Chamberlain's letter is to the Brunswick-area women employed by Bowdoin College, who cleaned the students' rooms and made the beds. There was a joke amongst the all-male student body then at Bowdoin, that the primary qualification of these hardworking, yet underpaid, women had to be physical unattractiveness--supposedly to avoid potentially scandalous situations from occurring. One Bowdoin tradition made reference to a rather straitlaced president, who inquired about a potential sweeper candidate: "Is she sufficiently repulsive in her personal appearance?"
In this same letter, Chamberlain appears to backtrack a bit on his somewhat critical tone, and attempts to describe to Fannie both the hardships she might face in current camp conditions should she visit -- and also describe his longing for her presence:
As the beautiful Maryland autumn moved on, Chamberlain was able to poke fun at himself and his appearance in letters, thinking he looked absolutely ridiculous. The formerly clean-shaven college professor now sported a bearded face, and his only uniform had become ragged, the trousers worn, in his words:
In place of them, he wore a sky-blue cavalry pair that were much too big for him; and, when it was cold, a huge and rough cavalry overcoat. His cap sported a huge rent in it -- a souvenir from a picket raid Chamberlain led to one of the South Mountain passes, where Confederate General James E.B. "Jeb" Stuart was said to be in the vicinity of. Two huge pistols in their holsters and a fine three-foot sword strapped to his side completed the outfit.
Colonel Ames, in fact, joked that the 20th Maine was recognized everywhere by its ragged-looking second-in-command seated on his beautiful dappled horse, giving the impression of, in Chamberlain's words:
In conclusion, he added with tongue in cheek:
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