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)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"Before the Storm" at the Dunker Church...

As the temperatures begin to cool, the leaves begin to change, and children head back to school, all signs are pointing to it being another September at Antietam National Battlefield. For us, September is an important month, as this year it marks the 149th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. As we prepare for the commemorative events on the weekend of September 17th, the days and weeks leading up to that date have their own specialties as well.

This past weekend was a living history weekend at Antietam, where our park volunteers donned 1860s civilian clothing to greet visitors at various farmsteads, discussing what it was like for the civilians who lived on the landscape in the prelude to the battle. The theme and title for these events was "Before the Storm." Among the many events that took place was a service at the Dunker Church on both Saturday evening and on Sunday morning. The Dunker Church service was portraying the last worship service before the massive armies arrived along the banks of the Antietam. On Sunday morning, as the service was being conducted, one could hear cannon fire from another living history demonstration on the other side of the battlefield.

Too often, we are used to seeing the Dunker Church as it pictured above. A black and white structure with meaning only as a landmark on a battlefield. It takes the work of historians and volunteers to transform that black and white structure into a living, breathing landmark with a dramatic story to tell...

One of the greatest ironies of Antietam is that it was fought on ground owned by pacifists. The Dunkers did not believe in war or violence, nor did they believe in ornate buildings. Their simplicity and pacifism formed a significant part of their identity.

Greeting visitors with tracts and historical information

 Singing hymns

Reading the Psalms

The Christian Commission camp behind the church

The United States Christian Commission is one of the most understudied institutions from the Civil War. Dedicated to both God and Country, these brave and dedicated individuals devoted themselves to caring for soldiers spiritually and physically. Their aid efforts stretched from offering religious services and New Testaments to helping in hospitals and in offerings supplies to soldiers. Some of the diary entries I read while doing my Master's research mentioned Christian Commission ministers moving around the camps of the armies in 1864, preaching to various companies, regiments, and brigades. The Christian Commission reminds us of another very important aspect to the Civil War.

This is just one example of the many excellent living history programs and events that occur at Antietam National Battlefield. We will have many, many more of these during September, especially on Battle Anniversary weekend. So, if you are in the area, stop by and see one of the best national parks in the country to commemorate the 149th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam.

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