Our Country's Fiery Ordeal

A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)

Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Not for themselves, but for their country"

Welcome to Memorial Day weekend at Antietam. Today, the town celebrated with a parade, visitors treked throughout the battlefield, and the Visitor Center was filled with Rangers who were busy giving talks, leading tours, and teaching others about Antietam and the Civil War. I like to think that by teaching others to respect and understand those who fought 150 years ago, we are helping to foster a greater respect and understanding for those who still bravely serve today.

Out of everything happening this weekend, if there is one aspect of Antietam I wish I could share with you, it would be a walk through the National Cemetery. So, this morning, I left for work early and did just that...

It was a beautiful morning in Sharpsburg. Coming over South Mountain from Frederick, the clouds were low enough to touch the trees. It was cloudy to the east of the mountain, but once I had crossed to the western side, the sun was shining and all of God's creation was beautifully illuminated.

One of my favorite views at Antietam. In the back of the National Cemetery, there is an area where one can look out and view a good portion of the southern part of the battlefield. What you see here are the rolling hills and fields where Union General Ambrose Burnside's 9th Corps attacked in the late afternoon of September 17, 1862. In the distance, the 9th New York Monument is visible.

The spot where most of the activity happens on Memorial Day weekend.

The cemetery gate, with part of the old lodge house visible on the right.

 Rows of state flags line the gravestones, with "Old Simon", the soldier's monument, keeping silent watch over those who call Antietam their final resting place.

 It is an amazing sight to see so many American flags adorning the graves of so many American heroes.

 The small square stones you see here mark the graves of unkown soldiers, one of whom is likely my great-great-great grandfather Elwood Rodebaugh.

 A close up of "Old Simon"

One of the most moving parts of the cemetery is the grave pictured above. For years, Antietam Cemetery was closed for new burials. However, in 2000, an exception to the rule was made. Patrick Howard Roy was a native of Keedysville, Maryland, a town just a few miles down the road from Antietam. He was member of the United States Navy. On October 12, 2000, he was killed in the Al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole. Due to his local roots, Patrick was buried at Antietam. As you can see, the flags honor the dead from both the Civil War and the wars in which America is now engaged.

While many, such as Patrick Howard Roy, have their graves well marked with their names, thousands of others are simply "unkown." However, being in an unkown grave does not mean that a soldier has been forgotten. This memorial day, remember this picture, and remember those who gave their lives so that this nation might live.

Hopefully these pictures have given you some understanding not only of how special a place Antietam truly is, but of the sacrifices that we are honoring this weekend. To close, there is only one phrase to fittingly summarize the sacrifices of so many...


Happy Memorial Day, from Sharpsburg, Maryland.

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