We're back. Sorry, no foggy stories from a new pub in a new town or tales of mud-packed underwear from a soggy river trip (both are on the agenda, though). Get out your American history textbooks- it's time for Civil War 101, with Professor RR!

Of the thousands of battles, skirmishes, ambushes, attacks and raids that collectively became the American Civil War, none buried more pinebox caskets afterward than the Battle of Antietam. On a crisp September morning in 1862, 45,000 Rebel troops under the command of General Robert E. Lee faced 85,000 Union soldiers in the farmlands of pastoral western Maryland. Lee, emboldened after he stuck his leather boot in the arse of the Union army at the second Battle of Manassas in Virginia a month prior, did exactly what you'd expect from a meglomaniac general; instead of waiting for the enemy to make a return visit, he took the fight to the enemy. The outcome cost more American lives in one day than the last three years in Iraq and changed the course of history.

Antietam was one of the few large battles to occur on Union soil, and had the Confederate Army been victorious, those of you reading this blog in the South would probably be citizens of the "Republic of Alabama" or the "Nation of Georgia." Thankfully, for your sake, you lost, or else you'd be running around shoeless and illiterate and eating pickled pig's feet. Oh wait- you're doing that anyway. Nevermind. The oblique point we're trying to make is the outcome of this battle had enormous implications on the Civil War and our country.

At dawn, Union troops initiated artillery fire and advanced on thousands of Johnny Rebs camped in a corn field. By 9 am, Rebel re-enforcements arrived and the armies collided on a wagon path seperating two family farms. For the next four hours, a most hellish and brutal combat ensued- when the rifles ran dry and the cannon fire slowed, battle tactics devolved to bayonets and swords, sticks and stones, and every other puglistic and primitive form of warfare known to man. We can only imagine the brutality of the bloodshed and carnage.

By 1:00 pm, the fighting in the road ended, with hundreds of dead soldiers laying in the old wagon ruts. The road was subsequently renamed "Bloody Lane" by historians, and if you have nothing better to do than sit around and watch the History Channel all day, you may see a program about the Bloody Lane. And thanks to RR and its' team of highly-acclaimed forensic historians, you can now consider yourself an expert on this notable piece of American history.

By 5 pm, the Confederate troops were driven south of the Potomoc River and the battle was over. With large casuality counts on both sides, neither could claim immediate victory. Ultimately, the battle was seen as a tactical win for the Union and a turning point in the war; the South's failure to overcome Union forces at Antietam slowed General Lee's momentum and foreign governments declined to recognize the Confederate States of America as a legitimate political entity.

In the days that followed, hundreds of Union soldiers were buried at what is now the Antietam National Cemetary. Monuments erected by the decendants of Civil War vets pay tribute to their ultimate sacrifice. Some are written in German, a testament to the fact that many a Blue Coat enlisted (or more likely, was drafted), into the army immediately upon arrival at Ellis Island. Others contain specific information as to the exact time and location where a certain regiment fought and who was killed. The ghosts of the fallen loom somber and serious over the tranquil landscape.

The graveyard is partitioned by state, so brethen soldiers are kept with their home regiments for eternity. Pictured here is a row of Michigan warriors who fought together and died together. Who knows- perhaps your great-great grand-uncle is among the many soldiers who perished in the battle of Antietam. Their lives were not lost in vain- on either side. Some historians argue that because of the Civil War and despite the many differences between the North and the South, we are a stronger and more united country as a result of the bloodshed. We tend to agree, (but it doesn't mean we won't hesitate to fire a cannonball of Yankee sarcasm at our Southern neighbors when given the opportunity [which is often]. Go ahead, fire back. Just be advised we shoot large bore cannons).

The most disquieting aspect to visiting the cemetary is the sight of hundreds of graves marked with only a number. For you see, record keeping during the Civil War was woefully inaccurate and incomplete. Many of the fallen were identified only by the insignia on their jackets. How unfortunate it must have been for the family of Zebediah from Monroe, who at 20 years old ventured off to fight in the war, never to return, leaving his mother, brother and young wife to forever wonder if he died from a musketball at Manassas, or... succumbed to septic shock at Andersonville, or... moved to Missouri and homesteaded a pig farm, or... headed west in search of gold after the war....

View My Profile